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Compass Direct News reports on "Catholic Priest Stabbed in Turkey"

(December 17, 2007 / Compass Direct News) - A 19-year-old Muslim youth stabbed an Italian priest in the stomach yesterday after Sunday services outside a Catholic church in Turkey.

Father Adriano Franchini, 65, was hospitalized overnight in the Aegean city of Izmir, and hospital authorities expected to discharge him today, the Anatolia News Agency reported.

According to the daily Hurriyet newspaper, the arrested assailant admitted in his statement to the police that he had been influenced by a recent episode of the popular television serial drama "Kurtlar Vadisi" (Valley of the Wolves). The series caricatures Christian missionaries as political "infiltrators" who pay poor families to convert to Christianity.

Fr. Franchini was stabbed near Izmir's St. Anthony Church by a man identified as Ramazan Bay following Sunday mass. Although Bay fled the scene, he was reportedly taken into custody an hour later.

Just before the attack, Fr. Franchini and Bay had a 15-minute conversation following mass in which Bay expressed his interest in becoming a Christian. But at the close of their talk, he suddenly became angry and stabbed the priest, drawing blood but not leaving a deep wound.

Bay's father said his son left their house in Balikesir to travel to Izmir 10 days ago. Before he left he said he had "found a new job," Hurriyet reported. "We are very sorry," the father said.

Disputes sometimes result when Turks visit Catholic and Protestant churches, due to the popular notion that Christians will pay them to come to church or send them out to the West if they convert to Christianity, said Monsignor Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar of Anatolia.

For this reason, he said, Turkey's Catholic churches exercise caution when local Muslim citizens show an interest in Christianity. Although Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, the country's secular laws allow Muslims to officially change their religious identities to another faith.

"If someone will come to us, we must see if he is serious, honest and if he will really be a Christian, not for receiving money or going [abroad]," Padovese said. "We must see the intention." The bishop said Fr. Franchini was aware of these conditions since he has lived in Turkey for more than 25 years.

Fr. Franchini, who is fluent in Turkish, delivered the homily yesterday at St. Anthony Church. He serves as curate of the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, where Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass in his papal voyage to Turkey last November.

Although Turkey's Catholic churches will continue to be careful about newcomers because of this and previous attacks, they will not change their open-door policy, Padovese said. According to the bishop, such attacks are not typical of Turkey's general population.

"We must be careful, but we don't see so great a problem," he said. "[Turkey's] population is kind, and we don't have problems with the great part of the Turkish people. At the same time, we must consider each person individually. But we can't keep the churches closed. It's not according to the spirit of Jesus."

The attack comes amid a growing climate of violence against Turkey's Christian minority population. In February 2006, Italian priest Andrea Santoro was killed while praying in his chapel in Trabzon by a 16-year-old. The attacker was reportedly motivated by anger over Danish cartoons of Islam's prophet, Muhammad. The cartoons had set off a wave of violence in the Islamic world.

In April, two Turkish converts to Christianity and a German citizen were tortured and killed with knives by five young men at a Christian publishing house in Malatya, in southeastern Turkey. Although the confessed murderers were arrested at the scene and went on trial in late November, the two widowed plaintiffs have appealed to the Turkish judicial authorities to identify and prosecute the perpetrators behind the killers.

A Syrian Orthodox priest who was kidnapped in southeastern Turkey in late November managed to escape his captors - days later. Several of his captors have reportedly been arrested by Turkish authorities.