07/03/2006, 00.00
TURKEY
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Fr Brunissen stabbed amid anti-Christian scenario involving pope's visit too

Mgr Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, denounced the approach of the Turkish media that reported the attacker's allegations. He fears a media campaign to shed a negative light on whatever Benedict XVI says and does during his visit in November.

Iskenderun (AsiaNews) – The stabbing of a French priest in Samsun is an "isolated gesture", however it reflects "an exacerbated anti-Christian disposition", said Mgr Padovese. He spoke about false accusations of proselytism fuelled by some newspapers, which were even attacking the upcoming visit of Benedict XVI to Turkey. In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Padovese described the current atmosphere in Turkey, a few months before the trip of the pontiff and just after the wounding of Fr Pierre Brunissen outside the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Samsun.

Mgr Padovese telephoned the injured man, who has already been discharged from hospital and is "playing down the incident". The bishop pointed to "strong nationalism that seeks to create an ever wider distance between the European and the Turkish worlds. There are powerful lobbies that feel threatened by the possible entry of Turkey into Europe." So it was important, he continued, to shed light on the incident: was it merely the action of an unbalanced man or was there the hidden hand of an instigator?

Today, the nationalist Turkish press published an interview with the assailant, who is called Atilla Nuran. The Hurriyet newspaper presented him on the one hand as a schizophrenic on psychiatric drug treatment (all carried a photo of him eating a woollen ball, saying it was his daily fare) and on the other, it reported his claims: "The priest often read the gospel to me, he offered me money and put pressure on me to change my religion and to go to church." Proselytism charges have become common in the nationalist Turkish press, which had levelled them against Fr Andrea Santoro too. Mgr Padovese said: "If this was the case, as the mass media constantly try to make everyone believe, then how come the Christian community in Samsun is so tiny? If it was true that Fr Pierre used to hand out money to make people come to church… Mass would have been packed."

Fr Andrea Santoro was killed in Trabzon on 5 February. The trial of the man charged with his murder is moving ahead only slowly. Mgr Padovese called on the Italian press to follow the trial: "Having the eyes of the international media focused [on the trial] is a way of making it clearer and more transparent."

Here is the interview of Mgr Padovese with AsiaNews:

Mgr Padovese, why is there this growing anti-Christian tension?

The man who attacked Fr Pierre was a mentally unbalanced man who had been known to him for some time. He went to his house and told him there was someone who wanted to meet him outside. Fr Pierre, perhaps too ingenuously, followed him, and when they were outside, the man took out a knife and stabbed him in the thigh, not in a critical area, but leaving a gash around 10cm long.

It should be said that in Samsun, Fr Pierre has a good relationship with the people and the authorities, the prefect and the police. He is very good friend of the rector of the Islamic Faculty of Theology in Samsun. Certainly, within this reality, there are also crazed factions. We must find out whether this unbalanced man did this on the suggestion of someone else or whether he did it just to "show off". In the past, the man who was arrested had already done shocking things to draw attention to himself.

In Samsun, churches have already been vandalised…

In the past, some hooligans got into the church… but the guard managed to send them away. These are isolated moves, which however express an exacerbated anti-Christian disposition, produced and kept alive by anti-Christian media that is very present here in Turkey.

In society, there are sections of discontent people who are however manipulated. There is still strong nationalism in Turkey, which seeks to create an ever larger distance between the Turkish and European world. There are powerful lobbies that feel threatened by Turkey's possible entry in Europe. They would lose their power bases and interests.

Have you managed to speak to Fr Pierre?

I telephoned him a short while ago and he had been discharged from hospital. Fr Pierre is very calm, he played down the incident. He is always very optimistic and positive and takes everything calmly. In the past, he had problems, but he always played them down, with an attitude of faith that looks at things from another perspective, always seeking to minimize.

He should stay in Samsun, in convalescence, until the end of September, when his contract with our vicariate will expire. The bishop of Strasbourg, who he is accountable to, has accepted to postpone his return. The problem for me is to find someone to substitute him full time, as it was to find a replacement for Fr Andrea Santoro. Unfortunately, we are in a situation where the only two parishes in the north have no priests.

Do these incidents have any bearing on the upcoming trip of Benedict XVI to Turkey?

At this point, thank God, things have been decided and I don't think anything will change. I think something will happen after the trip of the pope. In all probability, there will be a media campaign to minimize whatever the pope will say and do. For many people here in Turkey, the pope's presence is not one they are comfortable with: this applies especially to those who are not seeking dialogue and who do not want Turkey to draw near to Europe. These people direct newspapers and they will have a great time casting the things he will do and say in a malevolent light. Even now, several newspapers persist in saying they will hold protest rallies if the pope dares to pray in the museum [ex cathedral] of Santa Sofia in Istanbul. The newspapers are alerting the population and creating animosity in the lead-up to this visit.

At what point is the trial related to the murder of Fr Andrea Santoro?

It would be important for the Italian press to follow this trial. Having the eyes of the international media focused on it is a way of making it clearer and more transparent. So far, there have been two sittings and we are waiting for the third to be fixed.

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