By BosNewsLfe News Center in Budapest with reports from Tunis and Warsaw and additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TUNIS/WARSAW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm returned to Tunis Sunday, February 20, where thousands of people demonstrated against extremism after the murder of a Polish missionary.
The missionary, identified as Catholic priest Marek Rybinski, was found with his throat cut at the Roman Catholic Selesian mission school in a suburb of Tunisia’s capital Friday, February 18, investigators said.
Tunisia’s government blamed “fascist terrorists” for killing the 34 year-old Rybinski on either Thursday or Friday morning, adding fuel to Saturday’s protest. Demonstrators chanted “I’m Muslim, I’m secular, I am Tunisian,” and “Religion is a private matter,” witnesses said.
The long-outlawed Islamist Ennahdha, or Renaissance, party also denounced the murder and urged authorities to “cast light on the real circumstances of this incident … before making accusations.”
In a separate statement, the party distanced itself from a recent anti-Semitic incident in front of Tunis’ Grand Synagogue, as well as small protests targeting bordellos and mainly Christian run stores selling alcohol.
Priest Rybinski was killed after a letter, addressed to “Jews”, was reportedly sent to his Selesian mission in Tunis late last month demanding money and threatening violent consequences if the demands were not met.
The letter was signed with a swastika, Polish radio said.
Bishop of Tunis, Marun Lahham, told reporters that militants have “The ignorant think that all non-Muslims here are Jews”.
Lahham suggested that the murder was not the result of any heightened tension between Muslims and Christians but criminals taking advantage of a breakdown in law and order in the North African country where an uprising led to the end of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s two-decade rule.
Polish radio quoted Tunisian police however as saying the priest was “the second Christian religious figure” to be killed during the social unrest surrounding last month’s ouster of the president.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Rybinski worked in Tunisia for three years and had been a priest for five after being ordained in Lodz, central Poland, Polish radio said.
The priest reportedly also served in the Salesian missionary center in Poland’s capital Warsaw and worked for a year in the Polish Olsztyn Salesian institution, where he prepared educational and volunteer mission trips.
The Salesian Society mission, also a Catholic religious order, is believed to be the world’s third largest Christian missionary organization.
The organization was founded in the 19th century by Don Bosco, an Italian Catholic priest, educator and writer, who dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children.
Its missionaries are especially active among impoverished people, often youngsters, who the Salesians teach various trades that they say “will help them find decent jobs and become self-sufficient, contributing members of society.”
Priest Rybinski was active at the Salesian-led mission school in the Tunis suburb of Manouba, where some 700 children received education.
Uncertainty remains about their future, amid concerns among Christian rights groups that Islamic militants will step up attacks against missionaries and other Christians as part of an effort to increase their Islamic agenda in the turbulent Arab world, where several nations now follow Tunisia, and Egypt’s, lead in anti-government protests.