Bishop killed in Turkey, Buried in Italy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishop Luigi Padovese, an Italian who served in Turkey and was murdered there, generously witnessed to the Gospel and untiringly worked to promote dialogue, said a papal message to those attending the bishop's funeral.

Stabbed to death -- and, reportedly, almost decapitated -- by his driver, Bishop Padovese died June 3 in Iskenderun, Turkey, his residence as apostolic vicar of Anatolia.

The driver, Murat Altun, confessed to the murder, although there were still many conflicting stories about why he did it.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan presided over Bishop Padovese's funeral June 14 in the Milan cathedral. The bishop was born in Milan 63 years ago and was buried in the cemetery of the Capuchin order to which he belonged.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, sent Pope Benedict XVI's condolences to those attending the funeral and said the pope "joins all those present in commending the noble soul of this beloved pastor to the infinite mercy of God and in giving thanks for his generous witness to the Gospel and for the firm commitment to dialogue and reconciliation that characterized his priestly life and his episcopal ministry."

In his homily, Cardinal Tettamanzi said Bishop Padovese was like the Gospel's grain of wheat that dies to bring new life.

"A grain of wheat that silently bears fruit was what Father Luigi was in his incessant efforts to construct spaces of dialogue and encounter between cultures, between religions and among Christians themselves," the cardinal said.

"A grain of wheat, finally, is what Father Luigi was in that last, dramatic instant of his life, when he was with a brother whom he considered a friend and a son. His body and blood truly were spilled on Turkish soil and, even in our sadness and tears, they appear for what they really were: not signs of a life taken by senseless and tragic violence, but the living offering that Father Luigi lived each day in his mission as a bishop, a friend of peace and a brother to every man," Cardinal Tettamanzi said.

Speaking at the end of the Mass, Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini of Izmir, Turkey, whom Pope Benedict has appointed apostolic administrator of Anatolia, said Catholics there are suffering and afraid.

"The little church that remains in Anatolia," despite its apostolic origins, "is too young to overcome such a tragedy by itself; it is too fragile to face the evil that has stricken it; it is too poor to find within it the resources needed to continue to hope," he said, asking foreign missionaries to come help.

The archbishop said that one of Bishop Padovese's first pastoral letters said that "perhaps we have not been asked to witness to our faith to the point of martyrdom, but it is still true that we have been asked to witness to it."

"Unfortunately, he was wrong," Archbishop Franceschini said. "Or maybe he just did not want to frighten his community."

AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency, had written June 7 that unnamed neighbors had heard Bishop Padovese's driver shout "Allah Akbar" ("God is great") after stabbing the bishop, leading to speculation that the murder was religiously motivated. AsiaNews did not name sources for its report.

Officials at the Turkish Embassy to the Vatican initially had said Altun, the driver, was a Christian, but apparently that was not true.

The ambassador, Kenan Gursoy, attended the funeral in Milan.

AsiaNews also questioned reports, including from Bishop Padovese's secretary and from the Turkish embassy, that Altun was suffering from mental problems and seeing a psychiatrist.

The Milan archdiocesan website published an interview June 13 with the bishop's brother, Sandro, and sister-in-law, Liliana.

"In the past few days we have read many things that were not exact and many stupid things," the sister-in-law said.

Sandro Padovese said the fact that his brother was killed by Altun "is incomprehensible."

"We knew Murat, the young man who killed him, very well," he said, adding that he was "good and honest."

"The fact is that in the last two months, he fell into a deep depression, especially because the moment when he had to leave to do his military service was approaching and the thing that really worried him was that he was the sole provider for his family," Sandro Padovese said.

U.S. Jesuit Father Thomas Michel, who works in Ankara, Turkey's capital, told Catholic News Service June 14, "There is so much speculation about what is true and what people are making up. ... People are just repeating other people's rumors.

"I knew Murat, we had a good talk several times," Father Michel said. "He certainly didn't seem like a murderer."

Father Michel also said it was not true that Catholics in Turkey feel like they are targets.

"Life is going on pretty much like it was. No one here feels like there is a campaign against Christians," he said.

Read John Allen's take on the situation in Turkey: Struggling to understand a bishop's murder in Turkey

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