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Duke University Features Commander Limberakis in its Magazine

As part of the run-up to the European Union's planned accession talks with Turkey in October, a Duke Medicine alumnus is globetrotting to educate world leaders about religious persecution there.

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD'79, a radiologist in Philadelphia, has met with various heads of the European Union (EU), U.S. and European government dignitaries, and even spent a week at the Vatican as the guest of Pope John Paul II, to raise awareness of the Turkish government's long-standing persecution of minority Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul. The majority of Turkey's 65 million citizens are Muslim.

Istanbul is the spiritual center of the world for the 350 million Orthodox Christians. Yet Turkey is accused of systematically trying to "asphyxiate" the religion by destroying the Istanbul home and denying its Orthodox Christian minority religious freedom. Since 1927, the government has confiscated property owned by the church and its orphanage, closed its seminary, levied a retroactive tax on its hospital, and refused to recognize His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as its world leader.

Limberakis holds a high-level appointment in the U.S. branch of the church, serving as National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle/Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

During last summer's visit to the Vatican, he was present when Pope John Paul II officially apologized to the Orthodox Christian Church for the 13th-century crusades in which Constantinople (now Istanbul) was ransacked and pillaged and priceless church artifacts were taken. The Pope returned two of those, and Limberakis accompanied Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who escorted the artifacts back to Istanbul in a private plane.

Today, Orthodox Christians make up the second largest faith in Christianity. With 350 million members, it is second in size only to Catholicism, which has one billion members. Only 3,000 of the once several hundred thousand Greek Orthodox Christians remain in Istanbul, a city of 15 million. Most have fled for Greece, Europe, the U.S., Australia, Canada, and other countries, but the city remains the spiritual center of the faith. And since 2002, Limberakis says, Turkey has increased its confiscation of properties, winnowing the 2,000 properties owned in 1999 to a mere 500 today.

"We feel so strongly that the spiritual center of world Orthodoxy will be forced out of existence and the Ecumenical Patriarchate's 2,000-year ministry will be snuffed out by the government of Turkey, unless things dramatically change," says Limberakis.

So, it may seem curious that he is campaigning for Turkey's acceptance into the EU, a process that could take 10 years.

"Because the EU has standards of conduct that its member nations must follow,"Limberakis says. These include 35 specific categories, including religious freedom and human rights. Turkey already has abolished the death penalty, which also is a requirement for EU admission.

As October approaches, Limberakis will marshal the forces of Archons in America to make sure EU Commissioner of Enlargement Ollie Rehn and others here and abroad hear loud and clear the Orthodox Christian Church’s concerns about Turkey.

"We are hopeful that things will change with the new government [elected three years ago]," he says.

Limberakis owns Bustleton Radiology Associates, Ltd., in Philadelphia. He and his wife of 30 years, Maria, a family practitioner, have three children: John, a sophomore at Villanova University; Anthony, a Drexel University freshman; and Elizabeth, a high school junior.

Jim Rogalski