03/08/2006, 00.00
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More than just a minor behind Fr Andrea Santoro's murder

The investigation has left some facts in the dark. The anti-Christian climate is growing, thanks to lies spread even by newspapers. There is a clash between those fomenting Islamic nationalism and others who want to see a secular Turkey as part of Europe.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – A month after the "martyrdom" of Fr Andrea Santoro, this tragedy of the Church in Turkey is passing into oblivion. With these words, a priest living in Turkey starts his testimony, published below by AsiaNews. For obvious reasons, the author will remain anonymous.

The only sign left is the guard, discreet enough, for priests in Hatay and other churches in other cities like Smyrna. However, several facts remain in the dark, testifying how the murder was not the isolated action of a disturbed individual, but an event planned by those who cannot bear to hear the words "Christian" and "European" mentioned.

It is true that on Sunday 5 March, Turkish newspapers reported the reopening of St Mary's Church in Trabzon with a Eucharistic celebration by Fr Pierre Brunissen, who came from Samsun (more than 350 km away), with the participation of a dozen people. On the other hand, some national papers persist in writing about missionaries and their proselytism, about the distribution of money, and making other inferences without ever specifying the identity of those involved. Thus the introduction of insinuations into people's minds continues, that the Church is "converting" Turks and creating a danger!

Turkey has more than 70 million residents and among these, only 150,000 are Christians: I wonder how a country, secular and democratic, could possibly fear the odd conversion, while all the while, the not infrequent switch of Christians to Islam – especially for marriage of foreigners to locals – is proclaimed in several newspapers. How can a country claiming to be non sectarian and to respect its inhabitants' freedom of conscience, carry out an anti-Christian campaign through the press, insinuating that Christianity will bring about destruction of the Turkish identity? The problem is that this country wants to be an integral part of Europe, but at the same time, these prejudices call for reflection and raise awareness among Europeans about how far Turkey is from standards of democracy and freedom of worship lived in the West.

The Catholic Church is only here to witness and to help – becoming thus a target of hatred and denigration – all those who despite the difficulties and discrimination, want to be faithful to their gospel creed. If then someone finds its message as a reason to hope, and therefore, to join, I don't see anything so dangerous and serious in that. The Church preaches love and unity among mankind through Christ… and Turkey needs this as much as ever! Alas, in this country, there is also the aggression of Protestant sects who create considerable problems for the historic faiths, but this should not serve as an alibi to generalize and to "fire on everyone"!

Being a Christian in Turkey is not easy: one is discriminated against in many sectors: a Christian cannot be a policeman, join the higher ranks of the armed forces or the court. And yet we talk about democracy! It was only at the beginning of this year that a law was passed to allow foreigners to acquire assets – for homes or workplaces – in this country.

As for the murder of Fr Andrea, the case was "resolved" within a few days by the arrest of 15-year-old boy (not yet 16 years) who, provoked against foreign missionaries who undertake proselytism, wanted to avenge the cartoons of Mohammed published by a Danish newspaper. This is the official version and no one believes it for a moment. And yet, everyone is praising the efficiency of the Turkish police. Fr Andrea lived in Trabzon from hand to mouth, and it does not appear that he was undertaking aggressive proselytism work, as sectors of the press would have us believe, handing out dollars like an American magnate. Rather, precisely because of financial reasons, he rarely attended meetings of the Apostolic Vicariate in Anatolia: he did not always manage to meet the flight expenses (two tickets each way), as he himself confessed with regret on more than one occasion.

A Roman volunteer, Loredana, was working with Fr Andrea. She was a witness to the crime. From a window in a corridor looking onto the church, she saw a young man, who was not the 15-year-old suspect, looking suspiciously from right to left at the door of the church. After a few seconds, when she went into the church, she saw only the arm and hand pointing a pistol and shooting Fr Andrea's shoulders. From three, four metres away, the first bullet went precisely to the heart of Fr Andrea, who was kneeling in prayer. Just like a professional killer, while the boy held to be guilty said he had only ever shot on computer: it was the first time he was pointing a real weapon. The second bullet hit Fr Andrea as he was falling. She distinctly heard the shout "Allah ekber" (Allah is great) which came from the killer as he escaped, and it was certainly not the voice of an adolescent.

After midnight, the bishop, Mgr Luigi Padovese, with a companion John, reached the church of Trabzon. The police immediately showed them the identikit of the presumed assassin, and yet it has been ascertained that there were no tele-cameras or possible witnesses around the place, as they would have had us believe. So how was it possible to draw the sketch of the face so promptly?

On 5 February itself, however, at 12.15, at the end of Sunday Mass – the Sunday when the crime took place at around 3.30 – 3.45 – the police went to the church of the Dominicans in Smyrna and asked the parish priest, Fr Stefano Negro, how many entrances there were to the church and how many worshippers usually attended. The officers told him to use only the main door for entering and leaving the church… as if they had the presentiment of imminent bloodshed.
I think, then, that there were serious motives behind this murder: a priest – perhaps the easiest to strike – was killed to create problems to the current government, which is for dialogue with Europe for eventual membership therein. A sacrificial lamb was found, a minor who will happily be able to return to liberty within a few years, as prescribed by the law. As soon as news of the killing came out, many of us said: "You'll see: it will turn out that a minor is guilty!" Such was the automatic reaction of many Christians.

In Turkey there is hidden "war" going on between the two souls of this nation.

Striking a foreign priest, a European at that, has shifted the struggle between secularism and Islamism to Europe, sparking a debate against Islam and against Turkey, exactly as these puppeteers wanted. Those who suffer most as a result of this drama are Turkish Christians and their churches.

As long as the press continues its denigrating campaign with insinuations and suspects, always reporting about Christians and churches in a negative way, the atmosphere will remain poisoned, and it will be impossible to build a future of peace. Turkey is a marvelous country, rich in history, human warmth and welcome, but small fanatical and violent minorities continue to fight in the name of a nonexistent identity, appealing to religion and nationalism.  Many newspapers are playing the game and even acting as spokesmen. Many fanatics use religion as a means of division, aggression and death in the name of God. This is the tragedy being lived out today in this land, where the Christian seed, that has wondrously sprouted since the dawn of Christianity, has almost disappeared.

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See also
Protestant Pastor: “secular” Turkey; enough mockery!
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
A volunteer in Turkey remembers Fr Andrea Santoro


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