Priest Attacked, Hurt in Turkey

Ankara, Turkey - A Catholic priest was hospitalized Sunday after being stabbed, the Italian Embassy in Ankara said, in the latest in a string of attacks on Christians in Turkey. Police said they had detained the suspected attacker.

The assault on Italian priest Adriano Franchini was likely to add to concerns about whether the predominantly Muslim country — which is bidding for European Union membership — can protect its Christian community.

Franchini was stabbed after Sunday Mass at St. Anthony's church in the port city of Izmir, said Simon Carta, the Italian consul there.

The priest is responsible for the Capucine order in Turkey and heads the Church of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, Carta said. He said the priest was conscious when he was taken to a hospital.

The state-run Anatolia news agency said Franchini was stabbed in the stomach but his condition was not life-threatening.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the pope's apostolic vicar in Anatolia, told Sky Tg24 in Italy that Franchini had undergone surgery. "He was operated on; luckily it's nothing serious," Padovese said.

Police said they detained a man in connection with the attack, but gave no further information. News reports said the suspect, who was not identified by name, is 19 years old.

The assailant traveled to Izmir from his hometown of Balikesir, north of Izmir, and said he was seeking information on Christianity, Anatolia reported. Franchini invited the man to observe Mass after which the two had a brief discussion about converting to Christianity. The man suddenly became furious and stabbed Franchini in the stomach, Anatolia reported.

There have been a number of similar attacks over the past two years.

In February 2006, at a time of widespread anger in the Islamic world over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, a 16-year-old boy fatally shot a Catholic priest as he knelt in prayer inside his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.

Following that killing, a Catholic priest was attacked and threatened in Izmir, and another was stabbed in the Black Sea port of Samsun. In November this year, an Assyrian cleric was abducted in southeast Turkey and rescued by security forces.

In April, three Christians were killed at a publishing house that produces Bibles. Last week, Turkey began an investigation into alleged collusion between police officers and at least one of the suspects charged in the killings. The three victims, a German and two Turks who had converted to Christianity, were tied up and had their throats slit.

"This does not mean we will leave," Padovese told the Italian news agency ANSA, referring to the recent attacks. "In fact, our will to remain here is stronger after these attacks. However, while the Turkish population is generally good, such events attest that there is a sick branch in the big tree of the local population."

Christians make up less than 1 percent of Turkey's population of some 70 million.