Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has paid tribute to the late Bishop Luigi Padovese of Turkey who was stabbed to death by his driver.
The Latin-rite Catholic Apostolic Vicar in Anatolia and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Turkey was killed Thursday, June 3rd, at his residence in the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun in the south of the country. He was 63.
Bishop Padovese’s driver, 26-year-old Murat Altun, has been charged with murder.
It is widely reported that Murat Altun had mental health problems and was suffering from severe depression at the time of the bishop’s death.
Aid to the Church in Need worked closely with Bishop Padovese during his six years as Apostolic Vicar in Anatolia, developing projects including help for Christian education materials during the 2008-9 Year of St. Paul and help for a house for religious Sisters in Tarsus (the birthplace of St. Paul).
Again liaising with Bishop Padovese, the charity also supported a group of Turkish Christians wishing to attend recent World Youth Day events and provided help for the press office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Turkey.
ACN Projects Head for Asia-Africa Marie-Ange Siebrecht had close dealings with Bishop Padovese and visited him on a number of occasions.
She said, “He was without doubt a man of God, a person of great faith.”
“Bishop Padovese was dedicated to helping the Christian faithful withstand a situation of great difficulty. In everything he did, and in everything he tried to do, he sought to make progress for the Church in Turkey.”
“He was still relatively young and there was still so much that he wanted to achieve. His loss will be keenly felt by so many people.”
Mrs. Siebrecht described how less than two weeks ago she received a telephone call from Bishop Padovese with news that the Turkish authorities had finally granted his request for services to be held in the church in the town of Tarsus.
“He sounded so happy,” she said, “because ever since the Year of St. Paul he had wanted to enable services to be held regularly at this important place of pilgrimage for the Church.”
She paid tribute to his clear and often outspoken defense of the rights of Christians and other minorities in Turkey.
“He was willing to speak his mind in a very compassionate and courageous defense of vulnerable people in a country where Catholics and other Christians suffer ongoing discrimination.”
Italian-born Bishop Padovese, a Capuchin, ministered to a disparate group of faithful in a 97 percent Muslim country where Latin-rite Catholics only number 3,000.
In interviews with ACN and other organizations, Bishop Padovese repeatedly warned of a militant anti-Christian streak running through certain sections of Turkish society fanned by an increasingly active fundamentalist minority.
There was world-wide shock at the death of Italian priest Father Andrea Santoro, who was shot dead in February 2006 while praying in his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon. His 16-year-old killer was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
A year later, another Catholic priest, Fr. Adriano Franchini, was stabbed and slightly wounded in the stomach by a 19-year-old man after Sunday Mass in Izmir.
In a recent full-length interview with ACN, Bishop Padovese said, “We try to be recognized as Church in Turkey but officially we do not exist. We do not have any legal rights.”
“Because we do not exist, we cannot open a seminary, we cannot train priests for the future, we cannot build a Turkish Church.”
Describing how Christians suffer “discrimination” in Turkey, Mrs. Siebrecht said that they struggle in the face of “insidious harassment” with attacks in the media, job discrimination, calls to abandon their faith and severe restrictions on freedom of worship, especially the construction of churches.