Church Mourns Murder of Bishop Padovese

Prelate Worked for Rights of Christians in Turkey

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, JUNE 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Several sectors of the Church are sending messages lamenting Thursday’s murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar in Anatolia and president of the Turkish bishops’ conference.

The prelate was stabbed to death in Iskenderun, Turkey, hours before he was to travel to Cyprus to meet with Benedict XVI. He was 63.

Authorities charged the Capuchin bishop’s driver with the murder, 26-year-old Murat Altun, who is said to be mentally unstable.

A message from the president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, Cardinal Peter Erdo, expressed solidarity with the Catholic community in Turkey after the bishop’s “tragic death.”

He affirmed the “profound grief” of the European bishops, stating: “We wish to give testimony of our communion in prayer and to manifest our closeness to the bishops, the priests and all the Christian people of Turkey. Their suffering is also ours.”

The cardinal noted that the prelate’s death, which occurred on the feast of Corpus Christi, “unites him in a special way to the Lord Jesus, who gave his life for his people.”

He added, “We wish to assure our closeness to the Holy Father and the Capuchin fathers, the family to which His Excellency belonged, because such an event wounds the whole Church and encourages us to remain united and faithful in our service to the Lord with renewed fervor.”

The message continued: “Only from the Lord can we expect the justice that this man of peace and goodness deserves, who has always witnessed a true apostolic zeal and a great dedication to his people.

“We also pray for the one who committed this crime, as only the Lord can scrutinize and change men’s hearts. May Mary, Mother of the Apostles, and St. Paul of Tarsus, help us to remain firm in faith and hope in this hour of suffering.”

Tribute

Aid to the Church in Need today published a tribute to Bishop Padovese, who worked closely with the agency “developing projects including help for Christian education materials during the 2008-2009 Year of St. Paul and help for a house for religious sisters in Tarsus (the birthplace of St. Paul).”

Marie-Ange Siebrecht, the agency’s project head for that region, worked closely with the prelate on several initiatives. She stated that he was “without doubt a man of God, a person of great faith,” and “dedicated to helping the Christian faithful withstand a situation of great difficulty.”

Siebrecht reported that less than two weeks ago, Bishop Padovese called her on the phone with the 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.”

“In everything he did, and in everything he tried to do, he sought to make progress for the Church in Turkey,” Siebrecht said. “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.”

“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,” she recalled.

Siebrecht explained that Christians in Turkey struggle with “insidious harassment” through attacks in the media, job discrimination, calls to abandon their faith and severe restrictions on freedom of worship, especially construction of churches.

Bishop Padovese had recently spoken to Aid to the Church in Need, explaining in an interview: “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.”

Bishop Padovese had been serving as apostolic vicar to Anatolia since 2004.

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