Coming a month to the day after the death of Mgr Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar to Anatolia, who was killed by his driver Murat Altun, Father Antuan’s first Mass is a sigh of hope for Turkey’s Catholics.
The new priest was ordained just last Monday in Rome. During the homily, the following day in the Chiesa del Gesù, he remembered Mgr Padovese’s sacrifice. The slain prelate had always backed him in his vocation. He also remembered Fr Andrea Santoro, who was killed in 2006 in Trabzon.
He devoted his prayer to “Mgr Padovese and Fr Santoro, whose bodies were broken and whose blood was shed in the land they loved and that I love.”
Fr Antuan, 38, was born in Germany from Turkish parents from Mersin. In 1978, the family moved back to Turkey. In 1994, he graduated in Economics and Administration at Ankara’s Gazi University. A Muslim, he soon discovered Christianity, gradually.
“For the first time I clearly understood the words addressed to Allah. I was astonished by the fact that I was presented with a God who was a friend of humanity, a companion in one’s journey, someone merciful and humble who would give us food and drink.”
Fr Antuan was baptised on 29 Easter Eve, March 1997, in the chapel where he will celebrate his first Mass on Turkish soil.
He does not view his conversion as setting Christianity and Islam against one another. “Religions are used politically, something that does help dialogue,” he said.
“It is not true that I was taken away from my original faith. The Lord simply led me towards a path in which I can know him better through Jesus Christ. The most beautiful thing I have discovered is that through Him I love my country and my people even more.”
“Through the Muslim faith, the Lord revealed himself to me as the One God. He came to me this way. I have not given up that part of my life. Christianity is another step in my journey, which I altogether consider an invaluable gift God gave me.”
In his last letter, Mgr Padovese urged Fr Antuan, as presbyter, “to give what you have received: peace, consolation, hope and charity.”
In order to do this, he is specialising in bioethics, comparing Catholic thought to a fatwa issued by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. For him, “it is the first example of the type of dialogue I wish to pursue.”
In the meantime, Turkey’s Christian communities are waiting for the outcome of the investigation into Mgr Padovese’s assassination, which should be followed by the trial of his murderer, Murat Altun.
After a month since the prelate’s martyrdom, sombre prayers and Masses have been held. In Antioch, vespers were held last Wednesday on the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, with a number of ecumenical representatives present at the service. The next day, a Eucharistic celebration was held in the so-called ‘Cave Church of Saint Peter’.