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from issue no. 03 - 2011

Father Marek, who loved Tunisia

The Polish Salesian Marek Rybinski was killed in Manouba on 18 February last. At that moment the outcome of the so-called “jasmine revolution” was still uncertain and Tunisia continued to be rocked by protests and clashes between police and protesters. In that climate the barbaric murder of the Polish priest fueled concerns about the fate of Christians in an Arab world where uprisings were wrecking the old equilibrium and uncertainty was filling the future.

Then the investigations ruled out any “religious” impulse behind the murder. And Bishop Maroun Lahham wrote a letter to the faithful expressing in a simple and straightforward way his grateful and moving reaction to an ordinary Christian lot, usque ad sanguinem.
Here are a few passages.
My dearly beloved, we do not cease to experience events (I leave the word without an adjective). Now it is Father Marek, a thirty-four year old Salesian, in Tunisia since 2007, slain in a storeroom of the Salesian school in Manouba.
The Ministry of the Interior has issued a statement to the effect that the murderer was the school carpenter. The Salesian Fathers say that the murderer borrowed, last Eid (three months ago), two thousand Tunisian dinars to buy work material. He seems to have spent the money on other things, the supplier refused to deliver the unpaid material and Father Marek insisted on having the school’s money back. In a panic, and fearing to be discovered, the statement from the Ministry of the Interior declares, “the murderer surprised the priest, violently and repeatedly striking him with a blunt instrument on the nape and neck, causing death”...
Why was Father Marek killed? For two thousand dinars! One hardly dares credit it. There are certainly details that I don’t know. Whereas, there are things I do know:
- I know that Father Marek had written two weeks before his assassination, about the Tunisian people: “They are a young nation, intelligent, incapable of violence [sic!], deeply good and not capable of hate”.
- I know he had just written a first book on Tunisia, which says among other things: “During my stay in Tunisia, my attitude toward my Muslim brothers has changed a lot. This fear of terrorism and extremism has completely disappeared. The Tunisians are so welcoming, friendly and cordial. They teach me this attitude”.
- I know that he volunteered to come to Tunisia four years ago, when he had shortly been ordained priest.
- I know that he had asked for money everywhere to create new rooms for the school which he loved very much and of which he was bursar.
I imagine myself standing in front of his murderer and asking him some questions: Why did you, really, kill Father Marek? And why in this barbaric way? His youth and innocence inspired no sense of loyalty in you? Nor his slim body? You killed him with a hammer, was it not enough? Was it really necessary to cut his throat and leave him lying in his blood? How could you sleep after that? What stuff are you made of? What religion do you practice? Are you one of those who believe in God the Compassionate, the Merciful (Al Rahman Al Rahim)? How do you fit your crime with your faith?
Answer these questions, calmly, calm our fatherly and brotherly hearts... Then, I promise you forgiveness. You will need to first ask God, and then you’ll get that of the Catholic Church in Tunisia.
“If the seed that falls on the ground does not die...”. He fell, he has died, and following the example of Christ, to whom Father Marek had consecrated himself, he has borne fruit. All the messages of solidarity, all the scenes of condolence, the flowers laid at the door of the Cathedral, the Tunisian men and women who protested outside the Cathedral with the slogan “Marek, forgiveness!”, the young Tunisians who came to the Cathedral on Sunday 20th with flowers, tears in their eyes... “We did not kill him, they said, this is not Tunisia... Forgive us!” , and went away giving farewell hugs to the nuns...
Was the murder of a priest needed to make us aware of all of this sharing and this affection? The price is very high. We greatly appreciate all these gestures of friendship, but they are not worth one drop of our Marek’s blood.
And now? Well, let’s move on. This is no time to panic, it is that of faith, patience, caution. Leave and go? No way, hard times are not times for escaping. I say it first of all in my own name, and I think I can say it on behalf of all the religious personnel of the Church of Tunisia and in the name of the Christians in the country. I also say it for our Muslim and Jewish brothers. We are staying in this country that welcomes us, that loves us and which we love.

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