Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hate campaign leads to attack against priest

Turkey’s press has expressed regrets for the latest incident involving an attack against a Christian clergyman.

Fr Adriano Franchini, an Italian-born 65-year-old Capuchin who has been in Turkey for 27 years, was in fact stabbed to the stomach but is now out of danger.

Turkish newspapers have however failed so far to take notice of the ongoing defamation campaign against Catholics in the country.

Ramazan Bay, the 19-year-old man who carried out the attack, surrendered to police a few hours after the stabbing. He had fled after he carried out his attack in a church in Barakli in Izmir right after mass and in front several witnesses. He was quickly identified as a young Turkish man who had recently expressed a desire to convert to Christianity and complained about the long procedure the Church in Turkey required for conversion.

In fact the young man told police that he took the decision to stab the priest after searching the internet for information on Christian activities and watching the last episode of a made-for-TV movie titled The Valley of the Wolves, which focuses on alleged Christian propaganda and proselytising.

Upon learning the news Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan offered the priest his best wishes for a quick recovery. In expressing his regrets for the incident, he criticised the young man for his actions, reiterating that Turkey was a country where different religions, sects and cultures had lived together for centuries, and condemning anyone, whatever their motive, who tried to destroy that harmony.

Such views reflect in a nutshell what Turkish authorities think about the incident but in so doing they show a failure to grasp the significance of this and similar events. By simply disagreeing with and dismissing this kind of violence as the action of a crazed individual or a random act by a Muslim fanatic Turkey’s leaders are underestimating the problem.

In recent years Father Franchini was not the only Christian clergyman to be attacked. Fr Roberto Ferrari was threatened with a kebab knife in church, in Mersin, on 11 March 2006; so was Father Pierre Brunissen who was knifed 2 July 2006 outside his parish church in Samsun. None of the three were killed in these attacks.

Fr Andrea Santoro was not so lucky. He was shot to death on 5 February 2006 as he was praying in church in Trabzon. Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed the same way on 19 January of this year just outside his newspaper’s office in a crowded Istanbul street. The fate of three Protestants, including a German, was even more tragic. After being hog-tied, they were tortured and knifed to death in the offices of the Zirve publishing company which prints Bibles and Christian books in Malatya.

What all these cases have in common is the fact that all the culprits are young Turkish men, all supposedly unbalanced, crazy or mentally feeble, who ostensibly acted according to investigators on an impulse triggered by watching TV programmes and reading online material that focused on “missionary activities” by religious and secular Christians.

Father Franchini accused of proselytising

Fr Adriano Franchini is a case in point. Originally from Levizzano Rangone, a town in the north-central Italian province of Modena, he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1959. He was ordained priest in 1968 and in 1980 moved to Turkey where he served as director of Caritas Turkey for more than ten years, demonstrating his great devotion to the Turkish population, especially in the great earthquake of 1999.

Pulling up his sleeves so to speak, he was involved in fund raising for quake victims and played an important role in the implementation of several projects in their favour, helping them quickly rebuild their villages.

Even then he was falsely and unfairly accused on the internet of proselytising; his selflessness, passion and desire to help, all his efforts were treated as means to “create Christians,” when in fact all he wanted to do was to help powerless Muslims exhausted by the cold and hardships with no ulterior motive like converting.

At that time accusations went away, eventually, and the false charges laid against him, taken back. But online news have a long shelf-life and tend to be recycled and come back unchallenged.

In light of this and other episodes local Christians and Muslims wonder whether Turkey can be trusted since its authorities seem incapable of instilling its youth with the values of tolerance, dialogue, and respect for those who are different and for minorities, for allowing information based on untruths to circulate and letting its mass media continuously spread patently false, biased and defamatory information about Christians, especially via internet and on TV late at night.

All one needs to do is read the daily press summary by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Turkey (CBCT) to realise how Turks are bombarded every day with inaccurate, abusive and scandal-mongering stories about Christians and their faith.

What kind of harvest can one expect from this kind sowing? One that is full ignorance, prejudice and hatred.

The Turkish government shows very little restraint when it comes to censoring those who attack “Turkishness,” but does precious little when it comes to defending Turkey’s secularism and democracy from attacks.

Many people, be they non-religious, Christian or Muslim, hope that Turkey’s political leaders might put a stop to this short-sightedness and help instead the Turkish nation show Europe and the world Turkey’s real face, one that believes in freedom, democracy and truth.

Only this way can the vicious cycle of prejudice and suspicion between European countries and Turkey be broken, thus allowing the former to open their doors to the latter.
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