Journalists are supposed to be a pretty thick-skinned bunch, but it’s hard not to be shocked and saddened when you find out that one of your contacts has been murdered. That was the case for me when I heard that Bishop Luigi Padovese had been stabbed to death at his home in southern Turkey on Thursday. Although I never met him in person, we spoke several times over the phone about his efforts to reopen the church in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. Click here for that story. (Photo: Bishop Luigi Padovese at a religious service in Iskenderun, southern Turkey, in this undated photo/Anil Bagrik/Anatolia)
Padovese was always courteous, helpful and positive about his difficult mission there. According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) charity group, he finally won approval for regular religious services to be held in the Tarsus church recently. “He sounded so happy,” said ACN’s Projects Head for Asia-Africa Marie-Ange Siebrecht, who got a call from him less than two weeks ago. “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.”
Given the difficulties that religious minorities still face in Turkey, it was probably natural that some kind of nationalist or Islamist extremist was behind the murder. Both the Vatican and the local government quickly rejected that, saying the main suspect, Padovese’s driver, had been depressed and confused. “Political motivations for the attack, or other motivations linked to socio-political tensions, are to be excluded,” chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio.
Pope Benedict, who was due to meet the bishop during a visit to Cyprus that he began on Friday, quickly mentioned the next point of concern about the murder to journalists on his plane to the Mediterranean island: “What is certain is that is was not a religious or political assassination, it was a personal issue. We are still waiting for a full explanation of events, but we do not want this tragic situation to become mixed up with dialogue with Islam or with all of the problems of our journey. It is a separate issue, one that saddens us deeply, but one that should not in any way obscure dialogue in its widest sense.”