03/04/2006, 00.00
TURKEY

Fr Andrea Santoro: As if nothing ever happened

by Mavi Zambak

One month after the priest's murder in Trabzon, the country has all but forgotten the case. There is no news about the trial of the young killer; the only matter the national mass media persists in bringing up is the charges of proselytism against Fr Andrea. The bishop of Anatolia: this is only a pretext to feed an anti-Christian and anti-western controversy.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Tomorrow marks one month since the death of Fr Andrea Santoro. On Sunday, 5 February, in Trabzon – a Turkish city on the Black Sea – at the close of a day of protests and violence in the Islamic world because of Mohammed cartoons in some western newspapers, the 60-year-old Roman priest was shot dead by two bullets to his back. He had been kneeling in prayer in the back benches of the church, after having celebrated Sunday mass in the afternoon, as usual.

Turkish police said a 16-year-old youth had shot him, shouting "Allah is great". The murderer was duly arrested, political and religious leaders condemned the act, and most public opinion declared itself appalled, while the haggard Christian community mourned its friend, witness and martyr.

Now, it is as if nothing as happened for the media, which now and again fans the flames with their accusations of proselytism; everything seems to have returned to a chilling normality.

On 28 February, the national daily newspaper Vatan, reported once again that Fr Andrea used to hand out dollars to invite youth to church. And once again, the bishop of Anatolia, Mgr Luigi Padovese has been forced to cry out: "If there really was such a great distribution of money by Fr Andrea – as the newspapers seem to claim – for proselytism, then how come baptisms in his parish of St Mary in Trabzon were not adding up? I knew my fidei donum priest well, and I exclude such a hypothesis. If he had done this, he would not have had 'only' three or four catechumens coming to his church. The truth is that proselytism is an alibi, which is being resorted to in order to refuel a controversy which is both anti-Christian and anti-western."

So Mgr Padovese has had to appoint a Christian lawyer, a friend of his, to take legal action against newspapers that made these baseless accusations, managing to secure the publication of some corrections.

And still the authorities keep silent.

Nor is anything known about the trial against the boy accused of having shot Fr Santoro dead. But then again, is this feeble 16-year-old boy – who confessed, once he was arrested, to having wanted to kill the Italian priest because he was upset about the blasphemous cartoons against Islam – the real perpetrator of the homicide?

Going by the testimony of Loredana, a young pastoral collaborator of Fr Andrea, who only managed to catch a glimpse of the murderer's silhouette, and to hear his voice at the moment of the shot, it seems his bulk was much bigger and his tone of voice, when he shouted "God is great", was much deeper than that of a mere boy.

For the moment, police investigations are not giving anything away. It is feared that they are doing their utmost to close the case: an arrest to placate consciences and to cover the tracks of a bigger fish.

If as they say, the crime was the isolated action of a weak-minded boy, then how come today, a month after Fr Santoro's murder, churches, priests and religious are still being kept under strict surveillance by police? The residents of Trabzon and the Turkish population do not seem to be too interested in this question. The issue has not drawn much attention.

Tomorrow, St Mary's church will be reopened, and at the same hour of the afternoon as a month ago, a simple mass in suffrage will be celebrated. Fr Pierre Brunissen, parish priest of the church of Samsun – another Turkish city on the eastern coast of the Black Sea – will say mass, with a small group of Christians and under police guard, given that this elderly French priest has also received several threats by phone. He has also had "not very pleasant visits" to his church by a group of youth, most recently some days ago: they shouted threats and tore up placards. The mass will be a small light of faith and hope which is bigger than fear and indifference.
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Two months on, Christians don't want "normality" after Fr Santoro's death
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