By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, JUNE 3, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A holy man has died, a martyr of dialogue and peace, a personal friend of ZENIT’s editorial staff. It can only be hoped that his murder will not fuel divisions, extremism and conflict.
Bishop Luigi Padovese, 63, apostolic vicar of Anatolia and president of the Turkish episcopal conference, was a good and wise man.
A high-level scholar, titular professor of the chair of Patristics at the Pontifical University Antonianum, at which he was director of the Institute of Spirituality for some 16 years. He also taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University and at the Accademia Alfonsina.
Among the major experts on St. Paul, he published several volumes, the last of which was co-authored with Oriano Graziella is entitled “Guida alla Turchia, I luoghi di San Paolo e delle origini cristiane” (Guide to Turkey, the Places of St. Paul and of Christianity’s Origins).
A pastor with a great heart, abounding with good words, never controversial, he was committed to building and healing relationships in order to see reciprocal trust, dialogue and peace grow and consolidate between persons of different religions.
In an address published in “Mondo e Missione” in 2007, he described himself as “friend and lover of Turkey,” and he warned against the instrumentalization of Islam for political and nationalistic ends.
The Holy See had great hopes for his work. For 10 years he was visitor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, in addition to being consultant of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. On Oct. 11, 2004, he was appointed as the Pope’s apostolic vicar of Anatolia.
Bishop Padovese put passion and love into the care of persons, either to revive the various Turkish Christian communities or to nourish good relations with Islam and the other Christian communities.
On Wednesday, he met with the Turkish authorities to address the problems linked to the Christian minority, and on Friday he would have gone to Cyprus to meet Benedict XVI, who is traveling to the island to publish the “instrumentum laboris” (working document) of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
The apostolic vicar of Anatolia succeeded in finding words of peace and kindness even when faced with terrible situations.
When Father Andrea Santoro, a “fidei donum” priest, was killed in Trabzon in 2006, Bishop Padovese said at the funeral Mass: “We forgive the one who carried out this gesture. It is not by destroying those who think differently that conflicts are resolved. The only way to follow is that of dialogue, mutual knowledge, closeness and sympathy.
“But as long as on television channels and newspapers we see programs that put Christianity in a bad light and show it as an enemy of Islam (and vice versa), how can we think of a climate of peace?”
And, referring to the sacrifice of Father Santoro, he added: “Whoever wished to do away with his physical presence, does not know that his witness is now stronger.”
Commenting between tears the death of Bishop Padovese, Father Andrea Santoro’s sister, Maddalena, said to Apcom agency: “[Bishop] Padovese was truly an authentic Christian, and he manifested this and showed it with his kindness. There was not ambiguity in his behavior, he did not make distinctions and trusted everyone fully, including his driver.
“I hope that eyes will open in Turkey to try to understand and comprehend what there is behind this situation. Because Muslims must also be able to accept Christians, without fearing that we wish to convert people.”
Adnkronos reports that in an interview last May 26, Bishop Padovese explained, “Among the fruits of the Pauline Year and of so many pilgrimages that continue to arrive, there is also the greater awareness of local Christians of the preciousness of these places for the Christian tradition. The presence of pilgrims reawakens the certainty of living in a Holy Land.
“Another positive effect has to do with Muslims. They see that Christians arrive who, far from enjoying the place as tourists, place themselves in an attitude of prayer, and that helps to overcome the reciprocal diffidence that accumulated in the past. I think that the most beautiful testimony that can be given Turkey is that of seeing men and women who pray.”
ZENIT spoke with him often, and he was always attentive and fearful because of the delicate role he was playing. In one of the last meetings with him, he communicated to us his concern for his driver who was not very well — the same driver who stabbed him.
We are dismayed by all that has happened, but we renew our trust in Divine Providence, fostering the hope that this bloodshed will not lead to conflict, but rather inspire peace and reconciliation.[Translation by ZENIT]