01/29/2024, 13.09
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Vicar of Istanbul: war in Gaza and Islamophobia behind Islamic State attack against Santa Maria

The Islamic State claims responsibility for the attack against the Latin church. The two attackers were arrested trying to escape. The community is "terrified, shocked", said Bishop Palinuro. The incident raises questions "about the future of the Christian presence". Vicar of Anatolia notes that the government arrested 25 terrorists who wanted to attack churches and synagogues, but "they did not warn us".

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The Catholic community "is terrified, shocked’, by this attack, which seems to be "clearly religious motivated,” said Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro speaking to AsiaNews.

This “act of terrorism [is] linked to Islamic fundamentalism," he added, as evinced "by the videos and testimonies collected so far", and from online claims.

Tensions and a climate of fear have resulted since the Franciscan Church of Santa Maria, the only Latin parish in the Strait, was attacked yesterday morning during Mass. Built in 1864-1866, it is located in Sariyer, a district overlooking the Bosphorus.

The incident “raises questions about the future of the Christian presence in this country,” laments the prelate. “More recently, an atmosphere of greater serenity had prevailed; we only hope that this event can be isolated.”

More details have emerged a day after the attack. Two men affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) are thought to be responsible, as investigators had initially suggested yesterday.

The jihadi group, which has carried out other attacks in Turkey, claimed responsibility for the operation in a post on its Telegram channel.

Meanwhile, police have already identified and arrested two individuals, who carried out the attack with their faces covered, as they tried to flee the scene.

About 40 people were present at the Mass, while the victim was a man called Tuncer Cihan, who was attending the service.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that all "necessary measures" would be taken to punish the perpetrators, while Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu (an opposition leader) pointed the finger at those who undermine "our unity and peace".

"The pope's words at the Angelus have been a great encouragement and comfort to the local Catholic community,” Bishop Palinuro said. “Next week we will be in Rome for the ad limina visit and, probably, this will also be discussed.”

A few minutes after the attack, the pontiff addressed a message of closeness and solidarity to Turkish Catholics.

"The clues lead to a religious motivation," the prelate explained, “but we still have to wait because the investigation is still ongoing. Nevertheless, I must say that since October, since the events of the Gaza war, there has been a climate of growing hostility towards the West in general and, consequently, towards Christianity as well.”

Terrorists, he noted, "are usually unable or unwilling to make distinctions between the West, Israel, Christianity, and the Catholic Church. Paradoxically, Christian sites are being targeted, when Christians in Gaza are, along with Muslims, victims of attacks by Israeli troops.”

For the Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, “The other factor that could also have moved these attackers is the reaction to the climate of 'Islamophobia' that is taking hold and growing in the West" in an unconscious way.

This “remains a big problem because it hardens feelings, and creates further enmity. The burning of the Qurʾān has a huge resonance here, but it does not get necessary and proper condemnation.”

For this reason, the attack claimed by the Islamic State against the Church of Santa Maria "could also be a sort of retaliation for the burning of the Qurʾān.”

“While newspapers in the West easily deal with the story with a few lines, here the hatred inspired by a pseudo-religion is fed, smoulders under the ashes, and explodes at the first opportunity."

"We leave it to the investigators to get to the truth. We have confidence in the Turkish judiciary and police forces, so we expect justice to be done for the good of everyone, for the honour of this noble nation, and for the good of Christian communities that have inhabited it for two thousand years."

The Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, wonders why "we were not warned in time of possible attacks", after the government "said it had arrested 25 terrorists who were studying and planning attacks on churches and synagogues. Why," he added, "did they not warn us or boost measures for Sunday Masses?"

The prelate addressed a thought "to the victim, a sympathiser who had been approaching the church for some months, and was shot by chance, perhaps because he stood in the way of the attackers who were people prepared to strike, to kill.”

“We ask,” the bishop said, “for a different climate, not of opposition or discrimination, but of freedom in which everyone can express themselves.”

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