02/08/2006, 00.00
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So that Fr Andrea not be killed a second time

by Bernardo Cervellera

The death of Fr Andrea Santoro, the priest from the Diocese of Rome, killed in cold blood, while praying in his church in Trabzon, could almost have been predicted.  Just as the violence against the Saint Maron Church in Beirut and the attacks against churches in Iraq had been almost a certainty.  Each time tension mounts between the Islamic world and the West, the ones who pay the price are always Christians.  Despite belonging to a community that is older than Islam, they are always depicted as the West's implicit emissaries.  Furthermore, they offer an important feature to those who wish to strike them: they are defenceless, unarmed, even loving towards their persecutors.  They are the right victim.

It was almost predictable, in the Islamic storm caused by the publication of the Mohammad caricatures, that some Christian pay the price.

Who killed Fr Andrea?  Ankara has already arrested a young man.  But behind the hand of the assassin lies a bigger scheme.  There is, first and foremost, that of governments who are blowing on the flames of Islamic outrage.  It is difficult to imagine that violence in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan took place without the support, funding and complacency of Damascus and Teheran.

Our fear is that now Fr Andrea risks a second death, which would dilute and belittle the sense of his martyrdom.

The first step was taken by the Turkish government and all those who wanted to play down his death, saying that it was the result of a deranged young man and that the religious element is unimportant.

So much so that just yesterday the young killer confessed that he had been driven to hatred, scandalized by the blasphemous Mohammad caricatures published by the Western press.  Despite continuing to dismiss religious conflict as a motive, Ankara arranged for all churches and religious targets to be guarded.  Even Italian government figures said in statements to the media that "Turkey is a highly secularized country and that the priest's assassination cannot be seen as an anti-Christian deed."

Another step towards belittlement is made by the European Parliament that, motivated by the desire to incorporate Turkey in the economic community, calls out for market freedom, but forgets to call out for full religious freedom in a country that, "highly secularized," does not allow Christian Churches to have seminaries, schools, ownership of homes and church buildings, omitting to guarantee stability to the persons and communities that lived in Turkey many centuries before Islam.

Yet another step to kill Fr Andrea's testimony is made by those who transform him into a prophet of multiculturalism and dialogue, but are fearful of asserting his shining and beautiful Christian identity as anything but barely incidental.  In today's audience at the Vatican, Benedict XVI recalled Fr Andrea's "priestly soul", his "moving testimony of love for Christ and His Church."  In fact, in reading the thoughts written by this priest, one realizes that he went to Turkey driven not for an interest in insipid "dialogue", nor by the wish to do good to the poor and derelict, but by the desire to give new life to the Church, the body of Christ.  From this came also all his commitment towards the poor and prostitutes, his dialogue with Islam, but also with Hebraism.  In one of his writings received by AsiaNews , he says what dialogue is: "Europe and the Middle East (including Turkey), Christianity and Islam must speak about themselves, of their recent and past history, of their way of conceiving man and of considering woman, of their own faith.  They must compare themselves against the image that each has of God, religion, the individual, society, on how to conjugate the power of God and the powers of the State, man's duties before God and the rights which God, through grace, has conferred to human conscience."

Reading these words, one is left dumbfounded by their current relevance.  The lack of dialogue and the attempts at war between east and west derive right from the lack of the elements listed by Fr Andrea: on one side, a Europe that is forgetting itself, it religious traditions, disrespectful of its own history and superficial in its view of other religions; on the other, an Islam that does not know how to speak of itself, that does not look at itself, at the individual, at womanhood, at the powers of God and the state, and continues to dump on the other, on others, the fault for its own backwardness.  And thus it becomes an instrument in the hands of the dictator of the day.

If the West truly wants to defeat fundamentalism, it must work to demand that Islamic countries guarantee Christians and members of other religions full freedom to act and to speak.  The same must be done by eastern countries, if they truly wish to show that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.  Fr Andrea Santoro had offered his flesh so that "Christ may live in Turkey," as he once said.  In his death, Christ lived in Turkey to the point of sacrifice on the Cross.  For this reason, as the Pope has once again said, Fr Andrea's martyrdom will "contribute to the cause of dialogue between religions and peace among peoples."
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See also
Italian priest killed in Trebisonda
Nuncio in Ankara: Fr Andrea Santoro, a martyr for the third millennium
Two months on, Christians don't want "normality" after Fr Santoro's death
Fr Andrea Santoro: As if nothing ever happened
Time for reflection in the Church of Turkey in the wake of Fr Andrea's murder