Iskenderun (AsiaNews) - A bolt from the blue. In my parish office I was thinking about the interview with the Provincial of the Jesuits in the Middle East that I had just finished - we talked about the small Christian community in Turkey and its future in this land - when a call arrives from France in broken Italian, asking if it is true that Bishop Padovese had been killed. I feel shivers run down my spine and replied: "What kind of joke is this?".
"That’s what the Turkish agencies are saying and we wanted to have confirmation," reiterates the woman on the other side of the line, begging me to find out the truth. Hence the tam tam telephone calls, receiving only a bitter and baffling response: "It's true." Only half an hour earlier the driver of Bishop Luigi Padovese, a young 26 year old, unmarried, Turkish Muslim, stabbed and beheaded the man from whom he had always received only goodness”.
Deep doubts remain about why, facts of light and shadow, inexplicable, bizarre and contradictory confessions by the murderer.
The sad and painful truth is that the Episcopal Vicar of Anatolia, and shepherd driving a flock that now feels lost frightened and dismayed, is no more.
Wrapped in a heavy silence, Christians began arriving at the Vicariate, at his home here in Iskenderun - a port city in southern Turkey, bordering Syria, to try to understand, to feel united with one another, to receive comfort, to pray for the soul of their beloved bishop.
An educated , simple man
An educated man, a scholar before becoming bishop of the Church, he loved Turkey, these places where Christianity theologically developed and became structured with the first Christian communities and the early councils. Committed to making the history of this land known through symposia, conferences, guides for pilgrims and tourists and numerous publications that are difficult to list because of their sheer quantity.
But even a simple man, an easy going, humble person of charity committed to helping the suffering poor, the needy through the precious instrument of Caritas. A man who had good relations with those around him.
He could speak to the simple and the learned men of culture and religious and civil authorities. He had a good word for all and graciously spent time with the many pilgrims who came to these places from around the world.
Just browsing the many faxes and emails that are coming in these days as a mark of sympathy and collective grief, gives you a sense of the dense network of relations that he had managed to weave a little bit everywhere.
A man of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, it suffices to note his excellent relations with the mufti of the region and his profound friendship with His Holiness Bartholomew I, all the bishops and Orthodox and Protestant brothers.
Witness to the Gospel in the midst of difficulties
A man who was passionate about life, but even more so about the Gospel that was first spread from this land that is far from kind.
This is what he wrote to his faithful in his pastoral letter two years ago: "Dear brothers, the Lord grant you peace. I pray that his peace be with you always. The task of a bishop is not only to care for the people who have been entrusted him, educate and guide them, but also and above all pray for them. I know the number of Christian communities in Anatolia is declining, I can see their needs and am aware of the need for mutual prayer. It is now almost three years since that the goodness of the Lord sent me among you. I can not say that they were easy years. Many problems and concerns have destroyed my peace of mind and I like Peter in the sea I too cried to the Lord: "Help me I'm drowning." But at the same time I must say that I thank the Lord for being with you and being a part of our church in Anatolia. The difficulties I experience perhaps show how much I really love this community or not. "
He concludes: "I invite you to read the letters of St. Paul and may he always be the leader of the Church that he founded in Anatolia and intercede before God so that like Him, we too can witness the Gospel."
I wanted to see him one last time. There in the morgue in the zinc coffin wrapped in his Episcopal cassock with a simple wooden rosary in his hands. The serene face, despite the violent wounds and painful death, slain like a lamb.
That face always bright and clear, peaceful and calming.
Intercede for us, Fr.Luigi, intercede for your church, for people who you loved and respected here.
What you could not or have not been able to do down here, do it now for us from heaven.