More than five years after the murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese, Pope Francis has named an Italian Jesuit to succeed him as apostolic vicar of Anatolia, Turkey.
The Pope’s nomination of Fr Paolo Bizzeti, 67, to be a bishop and apostolic vicar of the church jurisdiction on Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean coast was announced by the Vatican on Friday.
Bishop Padovese was stabbed and practically decapitated on 3rd June, 2010, in Iskenderun, the city where the apostolic vicariate is based. His driver, a young man who reportedly had mental problems, was convicted of his murder in 2013.
Bishop-designate Bizzeti, a native of Florence who was ordained to the priesthood in 1975, has been directing a centre for the formation of lay Catholics in Padua since 2007. He is founder of an Italian association called “Friends of the Middle East.”
In a statement released by the Italian Jesuits, Bishop-designate Bizzeti said he had asked his superiors to send him to Turkey in 1984, “but the time was not right.” In the 30 years since, he said, he has continued to study Ephesus, Tarsus and other Turkish cities associated with the New Testament, to visit the Christian communities there and to accompany pilgrims.
“I’ve written a guidebook. I’ve been there on vacation. It’s a country I love,” he said. “I love its people, its nature, its history.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said, “I am going with much humility because I am not young, I must learn the language. I’m going at the beginning of the jubilee Year of Mercy, and I ask everyone to be merciful toward me and I hope to bring them the mercy of God.”
The bishop-designate said he is grateful for the trust Pope Francis has placed in him and he hopes to serve well “these little Christian communities,” which have been waiting for five years for a new bishop.
According to Vatican statistics, the vicariate includes about 2,800 Catholics served by six priests. Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini of Izmir has been serving as administrator since Bishop Padovese’s death.
The Christian community in Turkey is “small but vivacious, proud of the faith they live in a context that certainly isn’t easy,” Bishop-designate Bizzeti said. “Nevertheless, Turkey is a great nation that has a beautiful tradition of tolerance and multi-religiousness; you can say it is a country where religions always have crossed paths and where there always has been a fruitful exchange between the traditions of the West and East.”
Part of his mission, he said, will be to continue building bridges between the Catholic community and the Muslim majority, giving voice “to what the overwhelming majority of people feel and want,” which is peace and unity, not “violence and fundamentalism.”