Trabzon (AsiaNews) - Exactly two years have passed since the death of Fr. Andrea Santoro, who was killed in Trabzon, on the Black Sea in Turkey, on February 5th, 2006, while he was praying in the Church of Saint Mary, of which he was pastor.
The local Turkish newspapers announced the commemoration ceremony, presenting the news in a few short lines and emphasising that this year the priest's mother will not be present, nor will the leading church figures who came last year, when Cardinal Camillo Ruini came from Rome and the Papal nuncio came from Ankara. This year, the "only" ones present will be Vincenza Paglia, bishop of Terni and the head of the commission for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue at the Italian bishops' conference, bishop of Anatolia Luigi Padovese, a sister of the murdered priest, and a little group of religious men and women from the small Christian communities dispersed throughout the territory of Anatolia.
With the addition of an archive photo, the media disposed of the event, just as the homicide case has been disposed of with the 18-year prison sentence of the young man who is believed to be the assassin, in spite of the fact that in these very days an investigation by the Istanbul public prosecutor's office has brought to light the possible involvement of the Turkish terrorist organisation Ergenekon. These are ultra-nationalist lawyers and members of the military and organised crime groups who have targeted Kurdish politicians, journalists, and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. And they may have been responsible for the bloody events that have terrorised Turkey over the past two years, including the assassination of Fr Andrea Santoro, Hrant Dink, judge Ozbilgin, as well as the massacre of Malatya.
Something is happening: present at the ceremonies today were the vice mufti of the region of Trabzon, representing the ministry of religious affairs in Turkey. Very emotional, but determined, before the little group of journalists and policeman he delivered a brief message of condolences to all. "Our religion explicitly condemns violence and murder", he proclaimed. "God created us free, and therefore every human being is free to choose his own creed and his own faith. We are here to pray together for peace in the world, dissatisfied with all of the violence that is still taking place in this country. We condemn every form of terrorism, and we welcome all to our city".
The Mass, celebrated in Italian with some parts in Turkish, was celebrated in great simplicity, discretion, and serenity. It was a small group of faithful, gathered around the memory and the figure of Fr Andrea. Also present, with great faith, were two of the three Georgian women who just before the priest's killing had "dared" to invite the pope to Turkey, with an anguished letter presenting their situation and the life of Christians in Turkey. With great simplicity, they placed a bouquet of flowers on the pew where Fr Andrea was killed. Also present was a little group of Turkish faithful, Orthodox and Protestant, who proudly said that while everyone fled after the death of Fr Andrea, they continued to participate faithfully in the prayers that are held in this church: "We are not afraid of anyone, we fear God alone".
Not everyone has been as courageous as they have: various people who had benefited over the years from the benevolence and affection of Fr Andrea have preferred to remain anonymous. Like the Muslim woman who some time ago confided, with tears in her eyes, that the priest had on various occasions paid kind and friendly visits to her husband on his deathbed, and says that she still prays for this man of God.
And there were many students who visited the church and benefited from Fr Andrea's explanations of the Gospel and the Christian faith. They are the leavened dough now scattered throughout the world, of which Fr Andrea often spoke. They are the ones who, in spite of the many difficulties of life in this country have before them a beacon that continues to illuminate their lives in a way that is mysterious to us, as Bishop Paglia recalled: "In a world in which it is easy to be overcome by the winds of superficiality and respectable consumerism, in a world in which it is increasingly difficult to demonstrate a love that reaches beyond the boundaries of one's own little world, the witness of Fr Andrea's martyrdom, and that of so many martyrs of our time, shows us the gratuitous and boundless love that is the north star whose illumination can prevent men from plunging into the dark night of a love extended only to oneself and enclosed within its own boundaries".
And as recalled by the bishop of Terni, a close friend of Fr Andrea since they were classmates together in the seminary, "It is even more meaningful to remember Fr Andrea in the bimillennial year of Saint Paul. The apostle, a son of this land, left it in order to bring the Gospel all the way to Rome. Fr Andrea, in a reverse journey, came here as if to repay the debt of recognition that even Rome owes to the apostle. Fr Andrea thought that it was urgent to return here in order to draw directly from the source of the power of the Gospel that had changed Rome and the world". And the bishop concluded by repeating the anguished appeal previously launched by Fr Andrea: "Will there be those who desire to be present in this Middle Eastern world simply as Christians, as the salt in the broth, the leaven in the dough, the lamp in the room, the window between barrier walls, the bridge between opposite banks, an offering of reconciliation? These are words that we must not lose. Above all at this time, we must gather them and preserve them because they are bathed in his blood, in the witness of his martyrdom".