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Portrait: Fr. Andrea Santoro, Martyr

February 8, 2007

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I saw him two months ago in Iskenderun, at the see of the apostolic vicariate of Anatolia. It was our monthly retreat and we talked about the cross. He told us: “Often I ask myself: What am I doing here? And the words of John the Baptist would come to mind. ‘And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. I live among these people so that Jesus can live among them through me. In the Middle East, Satan continues to destroy, remembering and loyal to the past. As it was at the time of Jesus, silence, humility, the simple life, acts of faith, miracles of charity, clear and defenceless witness, and the conscious offering of one’s life can rehabilitate the Middle East.”

After a long pause, he took off his glasses letting them hang around his neck and spoke again, calmly, as if talking to himself: “I am convinced that in the end there are no two ways, only one way that leads to light through darkness, to life through the bitterness of death. Only by offering one’s flesh is salvation possible. The evil that stalks the world must be borne and pain must be shared till the end in one’s own flesh as Jesus did.” Not one word more, not one less.

After he spoke silence fell on the room. Then he looked at his watch and got up quickly, apologised, picked up his small suitcase and left the room almost running. He didn’t want to miss the plane that would take him back to his Trabzon.

There he was kneeling yesterday, praying in his church. There a bullet pierced his heart.

testimony of an Italian volunteer in Turkey who knew Fr. Santoro, from Asia News: A volunteer in Turkey remembers Fr Andrea Santoro

Chiesa: Blessed Are the Meek: The Life and Martyrdom of a Priest on Mission in Turkey

He had knelt down to pray shortly before celebrating the Mass in the little Catholic Church of Trabzon, in the north of Turkey, on the Black Sea, when a young man shot him in the back twice with a pistol, crying out “Allah is great.”

Asia News: Cardinal Ruini announces the cause for beatification of Fr. Andrea Santoro

Fr Andrea had and amply displayed the courage of a martyr and the diocese of Rome will promote the process for the cause of his beatification. Cardinal Camillo Ruini made the announcement during the course of the funeral mass for the murdered priest. The news was met with resounding applause from the congregation, whom the Cardinal told that he was ” wholly persuaded that all the elements which constitute the martyrdom of a Christian could be found in the sacrifice of Fr. Andrea.

Asia News: Nuncio in Ankara: Fr Andrea Santoro, a martyr for the third millennium

“Fr Andrea is a new martyr for this millennium. Let us hope that his blood is the seed for new Christians. Fr Andrea was a missionary just like Saint Paul who says: My duty is to evangelize.”

Asia News A moved Pope commemorates the sacrifice of Fr Andrea Santoro

May the sacrifice of Fr Andrea Santoro, “silent and courageous servant of the Gospel,” who worked “to bring Christ and the Gospel” to Turkey, contribute to the cause of dialogue between religions and peace among peoples.”

Forum 18 News Service: Commentary: A Murder in Turkey, missionaries, and Turkish-language books

Clearly the murderer – who was soon arrested – was influenced by his own religious convictions and an identity with extremist Islam. He shouted a religious slogan to justify his deed, and made a confession to the police that indicated the religious significance of themurder.

Listening to “liberal” voices within Turkey, it is quite clear that any attempt by foreigners to express or commend Christianity in Turkish is regarded as “missionary” and therefore unacceptable. Many conscientious Christians, simply by reason of their baptismal faith, would be seen as “missionary” in the Turkish understanding of the word.

Haberturk, a newspaper regarded as one of the liberal voices, interviewed Savas Ay of Sabah newspaper, who was in Trabzon investigating the crime, about whether the claims of “missionary activity” might be true.

Ay replied that locals had told him that the priest had not engaged in missionary activity. But he then commented that when he had entered the church he had seen New Testaments and Christian publications in Turkish, which suggested to Ay that the priest hadbeen a missionary. Presumably he meant publications of a catechetical nature.

For centuries the liberty to distribute Christian or other non-Islamic texts has been unacceptable in Turkey. In recent years people have been detained and even deported for such activity.

It is one thing for Fr Andrea to have been murdered by an individual influenced by the current “religious” riots that have done so much damage and led to various deaths and fear. It is quite another for Turkey’s intelligentsia to think that the simple practice ofhaving literature about one’s own faith, printed in a language understood by local people, is a questionable activity suggesting criminal behaviour.

Were this simply to be the musings of a journalist, one would count it as just another sound bite. Alas! The idea that Christian literature in Turkish, distributed by faithful Christians, is suspiciously criminal, or at least intellectually unacceptable, prevails among senior army officers, university professors, Islamicist politicians, lawyers, doctors, journalists and many others.

Fr Andrea Santoro died on his knees witnessing to the God of Love whom he believed to be incarnate in Jesus Christ. He may have displayed literature about that love in a language that Turks could understand. He, against all the odds, bravely worked and prayed in a provincial Turkish city, simply for the love of the people around him.

Catholic Culture: Fr. Santoro’s Last Published Letter:

Beloved,

I am writing from Rome, where I have spent three weeks before returning to Turkey. They have been very intense days, dedicated to testimonies, meetings, catechesis, conferences, and times of prayer. Everything has been oriented to promote information and knowledge between the Middle East, seen through my personal experience, and our West, in line with the objective of Window to the Middle East.

I have found everywhere interest and participation, a sincere desire to understand and to establish bonds of communion. I have seen the importance and the possibility of undertaking an exchange of spiritual gifts between these two worlds. The Middle East, great “holy land,” where God decided to communicate himself in a special way with man, has its riches and the capacity, thanks to the light that God has always infused, to illuminate our Western world.

But the Middle East has its darkness, its problems, often tragic, and its “voids.” It needs, therefore, in turn that that Gospel that came from there be sowed again and that the presence of Christ be proposed again there. It is a reciprocal “re-evangelization” and an enrichment that the two worlds can exchange.

Meanwhile, in Trabzon, the minute Christian community has met every Sunday morning to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Church has been opened twice a week to Muslims, under the responsibility of a trustworthy person. I will let you know how it goes.

I greet you, commending these reflections to you and exhorting you to always put faith in contact with the present moment. It must not be an abstract and generic faith, but a faith like that of the first “beginnings,” which has been transmitted to us from generation to generation. As the Gospel says, leaven has a mysterious capacity to ferment the dough, if it comes into contact with it — the dough of all times, all places, all generations.

Moreover, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness.” If his light illuminates us, not only will it illuminate every situation, even the most tragic, but in addition we too, as He always said, will be light. The tenuous light of a candle illuminates a house, an extinguished lamp leaves everything in darkness. May he shine in us with his Word, with his Spirit, with the sap of his saints. May our life be the wax that is consumed willingly.

Affectionately,
Father Andrea

See also:
Asia News: “Meryem anà”: Fr Andrea Santoro’s prayer to Mary
Asia News: When the children of the Black Sea are taught to hate priests
Compass Direct News: Turkey: Slain priest’s memorial opens way to reconciliation

Other Blogs Commemorating the Death of Fr. Santoro:
Whispers in the Loggia: One Year On
Unam Sanctam: Remembering Fr. Andrea Santoro
Argent by the Tiber: Remembering Fr. Andrea Santoro

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