Tunisian Prelate Horrified by Priest's Murder

Authorities Arrest School Handyman

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TUNIS, Tunisia, FEB. 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Tunis is expressing horror and sadness over last week’s murder of Father Marek Rybinski, a 33-year-old Polish missionary. On Monday, police apprehended a suspect in the killing.

Archbishop Maroun Lahham expressed «horror, sadness, anger, revolt, concern, fear, doubt» in response to the Feb. 18 murder of the priest who had been working in Manouba, Tunisia since 2007.

The prelate lamented: «Why was Father Marek killed? For 2,000 dinars ($1,300)!»

He noted that the priest had written two weeks earlier that Tunisia «is a nation that is young, intelligent, incapable of violence, profoundly good and not capable of hate.»

The missionary had also written: «During my stay in Tunisia, my attitude toward my fellow Muslims has changed dramatically. This fear of terrorism and extremism has completely disappeared.

«Tunisians are so welcoming, friendly and warm. They teach me this attitude.»

The archbishop recalled Father Rybinski’s offer to come to Tunisia shortly after his 2005 ordination. He praised the missionary’s efforts to collect donations «from everywhere to build new premises for the school he loved and he was directing.»

Archbishop Lahham stated: «Where do we go from here? There is no question that times of difficulty are not the moments for running away.»

«This is no time to panic,» he said. «It is time for faith, patience, precaution.»

The prelate continued: «I say in my own name first, and I think I can say on behalf of any religious personnel of the Church in Tunisia, and on behalf of Christians in the country, as well as on the behalf of our brother Muslims and Jews: We will stay put in this country that has welcomed us, who loves us and who we love.»

Referring to the Gospel passage about the seed that falls to the earth and dies, the archbishop affirmed that Father Rybinski «fell, he died, and in the example of Christ to whom [he] had consecrated himself to, it has borne fruit.»

Killer apprehended

On Monday the Tunisian authorities reported the arrest of 44-year-old Chokri Ben Mustapha Bel-Sadek El-Mestiri for the murder of Father Rybinski.

El-Mestiri was a handyman who handled repairs at the Salesian school where the missionary was stationed.

Father Rybinski reportedly gave him some $1,300 to buy supplies for repairs, but the handyman spent the money elsewhere. The Tunisian authorities suspect that El-Mestiri killed the priest because he was unable to repay or account for the money.

Given the recent unrest in the country, the minister of the interior denounced the murder of the priest while expressing «relief» that it was not politically motivated.

Archbishop Lahham observed the numerous messages of solidarity and sympathy from the Tunisian people after this tragedy. He noted that many demonstrated outside the cathedral with signs that said, «Marek, sorry!»

A group of youth, the prelate noted, came with flowers and tears in their eyes, stating: «We have not killed. It is not Tunisia. Forgive us!»

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