Missionary vocation: the story of Brother Peter

A vocation within a vocation arrived after more than twenty years of priesthood: this is the story of Br Pietro Mechelli, an Italian friar, originally from Orvieto, who at the age of 53 decided to offer himself as a missionary of the Order in Turkey. “I became a priest in 1994,” explains Br Pietro. “I lived in Umbria, carrying out various services until I moved to the Sanctuary of San Damiano”. During his service in the sanctuary, in a quiet place of spirituality, such as that of San Damiano in Assisi, Br Pietro felt the call to change his life radically for the second time after the first call to become a friar minor. “In December 2016, the person in charge of the order’s missions came to visit our fraternity,” says Br Pietro. “I was not even supposed to attend this meeting because I was busy with other duties, but a brother urged me to attend. As I listened to the friar speak about the missionary vocation, even though I was already 53 years old, he seemed to speak for me. Thus was born within me this desire to offer myself for the mission that the Order needed: Turkey”. After months of reflection and discernment, Br Peter was then able to leave without neglecting language training. For this type of destination, it is necessary to learn English and then Turkish.

“I left full of joy and with a lot of enthusiasm, but certainly with a concern for the language,” explains the friar. Each mission has a specific aspect, but one starts by questioning oneself. The first form of evangelisation must be done in one’s own heart to experience an international community of friars, and this is how it was for me”.

After spending the first few years in Istanbul, Br Peter is now in Izmir, where, together with other Franciscans, he looks after two parish churches. It is a different and less traditionalist reality than in Istanbul, but the Franciscan presence has the same mission of dialogue and sharing the life of the locals. Among those who attend the parish, there are also many migrants from different countries of the world, European workers or locals. “We friars are among the people, we welcome people into the church, we dedicate time to visits, which are often from Muslim tourists,” continues Br Peter. “In Turkey, we are a bridge between Catholics and the Muslim world, starting with the people we meet in the street or in church, up to the authorities like the imams. We are also committed to ecumenical dialogue”.

Br Peter remembers well his first significant encounter when he arrived in Turkey: “Once in the street, a young man stopped me to ask me for a cigarette and then asked me if I was a Christian. It was the first time someone asked me such a direct question, and I had to give my testimony of being a Christian and a priest. Then he asked me what it meant to be Catholic and to stay and talk to me”. Despite the difficulties of living as a minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, Br Peter is clear about the mission of the friars: “We aim to share moments of reflection, meetings with ordinary people, and only then can we share our faith”. A constant in the life of the Franciscans in Turkey, however, must be an intense prayer life and an authentic fraternal life, according to the friar. “One of the graces of this mission in Turkey is to be in an international community,” Br Peter says.”It is nice to be able to share a piece of my religious life with people who are different from me, who broaden my mind and make me breathe the greatness of the Franciscan family.