By Worthy News Middle East Service with reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Worthy News)-- A Turkish court on Friday, June 4, charged a Turkish man with murdering a Roman Catholic bishop -- the latest in a series of violent attacks against the country's tiny Christian minority.
The 63-year-old Bishop Luigi Padovese, the pope's apostolic vicar in Anatolia, was resting at his summer house in the port city of Iskenderun, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, when he was stepped by his driver, said Sister Leonora, the bishop's secretary.
Bishop Padovese, an Italian national, was due to join Pope Benedict XVI in Cyprus on Sunday, May 6.
The suspect of Kurdish origin, identified only as Murat A., had been employed as his personal driver and handyman for more than four years, Vatican sources added.
Bishop Padovese, who was also head of the Turkish Bishops Conference, reportedly died in the ambulance on the way to hospital shortly after the attack at 1 pm local time.
Soon after Thursday's killing, authorities suggested the attack was not an anti-Christian hate crime. In a statement, Turkish police said the suspect was "mentally unstable" with serious psychological problems.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he was "dismayed" by the news. "This is horrible news that left " us deeply shocked and of course, desperately dismayed," he said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
"Bishop Padovese was a person of great worth for the witness of the Church's life in Turkey, and even in difficult situations, was a courageous person dedicated to the Gospel".
Spokesman Lombardi confirmed reports that the suspect had mental problems. "The religious sister [and secretary of the bishop] testified to the man’s recent signs of depression and confusion and confirms that he had given evidence of mental imbalance in the past."
Therefore, "political motivations for the attack, or other motivations linked to socio-political tensions
are to be excluded," he added.
However the attack was expected to add to anxiety among Christians following several attacks in recent years in Turkey. In 2007, a Catholic priest survived after being stabbed by a 19-year-old boy after Sunday Mass in the western city of Izmir.
That same year, three evangelical Christians were tortured and killed in a Bible-publishing house in the city of Malatya.
In 2006, a 16-year-old boy shot dead a Catholic priest, Father Andrea Santoro, as he prayed in his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.
Lombardi said the latest attack comes at a crucial time for the pope and Christians. "This fact coming as it does on the eve of a papal trip towards the Middle East lends an extraordinary intensity to the pope’s mission to encourage the Christian communities living in this region, helping us to profoundly understand the urgent need for the solidarity of the universal Church to support these Christian communities."
Turkey, which seeks membership of the European Union, has come under international pressure to improve the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in the mainly Muslim nation.