Parma (AsiaNews) - Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini, 71, 6 years Latin archbishop of Izmir, is blunt: after the martyrdom of Archbishop. Luigi Padovese the Church in Turkey is devastated and hurt, but more united than ever. Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Chaldeans are more fraternal. The bishop is also outspoken about another aspect: the Church in Turkey wants to know "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" about the motives of the assassin of Mgr. Padovese. The Turkish Church does not believe the motive of murder was sexual in nature, nor the "pious lie" of Murat Altun’s mental illness. He knows that the killing took place following an Islamic ritual but more lies behind this apparent fanaticism. Especially since the murderer was never a devout Muslim. Mgr Franceschini hypothesizes that the assassination was planned with precision, the killer for well trained, and the authors aim to destabilize the country and distance Turkey from Europe.
With the clarity that distinguishes him, he asks the universal Church and Rome to clearly show its support for the Church of Turkey with intelligence and effective solidarity. He appeals for volunteers, teachers, nuns and religious, to go on mission to Turkey, mainly to keep the few Catholic schools open.
After attending the funeral of Mgr. Padovese in Izmir, Mgr. Franceschini came to Italy to attend the solemn funeral of slain bishop to be held in the Cathedral of Milan on 14 June at 10.30. Below the interview that he granted us.
Your Grace, after the martyrdom of bishop. Luigi Padovese how is the Church in Turkey?
It is without doubt, prostrated, pained, but united. Several bishops attended the funeral of Mgr. Padovese, held in the Cathedral of Iskenderun on June 7 last year. Sitting beside me. there was a coadjutor bishop of the Armenians. He could not even utter a single word: he was devastated. It is a reaction due to the shock of the death. The vicar of the Chaldeans did not come, although there were many Chaldean priests. There was also a bishop of the Syrian Orthodox. All were prostrate and destroyed. You could clearly read the thoughts of these Armenian’s, "History repeats itself”, perhaps thinking of what happened to the Armenians in the genocide of the 1900’s.
Neither were we Latins very stoic. Having said all that, it was a beautiful moment of unity. And we will not give up, we will try to keep the Church on course. Regional authorities were also there at the funeral.
What is your view of the murder of the Vicar of Anatolia?
We seek the truth about the murder of Mgr. Padovese first and foremost. The day before the funeral Minister of Justice together with the judge supervising the investigation into the murder arrived in Iskenderun. The judge did not say a word. They asked to see me in a private room and there I told them: "We want the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We do not want other lies: that there were others involved , there was no one else involved, it was a crime of passion. Nothing must be kept hidden”.
I believe that with this murder, which has an explicitly religious, Islamic element, we are faced with something that goes beyond the government it points towards nostalgic, perhaps anarchist groups who want to destabilize the government.
The very modalities of the murder aim to manipulate public opinion. After having killed the bishop, the young Murat Altun shouted "I killed the great Satan. Allah Akbar. " But this is really strange. Murat had never before said those violent sentences. I knew him for at least 10 years. I was the one who took him on to work for the Church. He had never expressed himself in this way. He was not a practicing Muslim. He was a young man who had a Christian culture, without being Christian. Neither he nor his father were our enemy. In my opinion, were a being used like a tool in the hands of others.
The use of Islamic ritual serves to divert attention: it is like suggesting that the track is religious and not political. Moreover, by pushing the religious track, that of a conflict between Islam and Christianity, public opinion can be inflamed in an area where we are weak and believed we have no strength. What’s more, Prime Minister Erdogan’s strongest supporters are not to be found among radical Islam but in the moderates And I fear that now he no longer has even their support.
Murat Altun also claimed the bishop was homosexual and said he was "depressed and unstable"
The murderer has also "confessed" sexual motives, saying that Mgr. Padovese paid him for "services". But this is a track that only aims to confuse. And I do not believe even the usual hastily and pious lie that Murat was mentally ill and addicted. He was neither the one nor the other. Days before he tried to pass himself off as crazy, but doctors have told him not to show up any more because he is sane.
I suppose he had good lawyers as advisers to prepare and ensure that these alibis, if convicted, means he could get away with just a sentence of a few years.
Some think that given the violence, Turkey should never join Europe ...
Certainly within the motive for this carefully studied murder, is the desire of some sectors of Turkish society not to join Europe, and that do not want any change.
We hope that this killing, instead of distancing us, moves us closer to Europe. Indeed, we hope that our friendship will extended to other European countries to work for our well being and yours, given that Turkey is becoming an increasingly great country.
What is life like for the small Church in Turkey?
The Church in Turkey is not small, but very diverse in different denominations, although in recent times we have learned to love each other. At the funeral of Mgr. Padovese we were all there: Latin, Armenian, Catholic, Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Chaldean. Each confession prayed their own prayer gathered around the coffin.
We need to feel more united with Rome. Even the Orthodox are saying this, who now increasingly look to Rome. We need to feel that the heart of Catholicism beats for us too. We feel a little abandoned. It is true that now there is going to be the Synod Churches for Middle East, which should also help mature solidarity between us and the universal Church. Let us hope so, we hope that the document of the Synod is not only a cultural document, with little real effect. Something has to change.
If we Capuchins, some Dominicans, and other religious orders were not here in Turkey, there would be no priests. In Smyrna there is only one local priest, whom I ordained. Others prefer to live abroad, where they are freer. They do not have the mentality of service and mission.
What would you ask of the Italian and Universal Church?
First of all prayer, but a prayer that is aware of the stakes, that we do not want to give up despite the difficulties: the Christian community was born here and here the first councils took place and we can not abandon these places. We need solidarity, not only proclaimed, but active. Every year we need help to repair one church or another, and we do not know how. Then we need to by a home for the priest, and for the religious sisters to live in and we need lay people and priests to come to live with us.
Unfortunately, especially female institutions, when they see that in coming to Turkey they can not open a home for vocations, they decide not to come. But even if there are difficulties for religious freedom, there is a lot of work to be done. In Turkey there is no freedom to proclaim the gospel in the streets, there is no freedom to establish seminaries or build new churches, but we can work in our parishes that already exist, meet people, transform our sitting rooms into churches…
What are the most urgent needs?
Support for our schools. In Turkey there are still some schools open thanks to old deeds, that even outdate those of Ataturk. Once these schools were the best in Turkey, now they are barely surviving. But we are desperately trying to enhance them to save our youth, who are very badly treated in state schools. Unfortunately, the Christian Brothers have withdrawn. Only the Sisters of Ivrea remain in the field of education, but they are very old. We need teachers, volunteers for two or three years, and women religious to come here and support these schools. They should come even if they can not open a house for vocations. It is important to go to Turkey to give, not to accumulate. We must learn to give something to Jesus, as well as ask for something.
Moreover, it is difficult but not impossible to promote vocations, especially male vocations. So far I managed to ordain two priests. But these vocations come from abroad, so it is important to learn the Turkish language, which is not easy. We need local vocations.
To improve our communication with the Church, we are preparing a site linked to a non-profit organization, which will be ready within a year. It is called the Santa Claus Association, with a site that is being launched online.