Monday, February 05, 2007

One Year On

In Trabzon, Turkey, along the Black Sea, today marks a year since the parish priest Don Andrea Santoro was murdered by a group of local youth.

In the small church of Sancta Maria where Santoro -- a priest of Rome on loan to the small Catholic community -- was gunned down, a memorial Mass was held, celebrated by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the papal vicar for Rome, who traveled to Turkey with the late cleric's mother, sisters and uncle to commemorate the anniversary.
Said Cardinal Ruini yesterday, "Santoro['s] death has greatly saddened us, but he was a gift to the Roman Church from God. Because of Santoro, the list of people who have given their lives for God has grown richer."
Don Andrea's death sparked a national outcry in his native land. He was given a state funeral in St John Lateran (also celebrated by Ruini) and his cause for beatification was promptly opened.

Given the significance of the papal trip to Turkey in November and the concerns for the Pope's safety that proceded it, Benedict XVI's intent in proceeding with it, even adding a day to his schedule amid the pre-visit controversy, was likely underpinned by the Santoro story. "Let us sing joyfully," the pontiff said in his homily for the local fold at Mary's House at Ephesus, "even when we are tested by difficulties and dangers, as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Roman priest Don Andrea Santoro."

Six days before Santoro's death, the Pope received a letter from the priest, which he subsequently read publicly at his general audience three days after the news broke.

It's reproduced below in its original Whispers translation.
Your Holiness,

I write you in the name of the Georgian women of my parish, "Santa Maria" in Trabzon (Trebisonda) on the Black Sea in Turkey. They've dictated to me in Turkish, I've translated and sent it from their mouth so you could have it in time for my coming to Rome. I am Don Andrea Santoro, a "Fidei donum" [gift of Faith] priest of the church of Rome in Turkey, in the diocese of Anatolia, and have been here for five years. My flock is made up of 8 or 9 Catholics, many Orthodox of the city and the Muslims who form 99 percent of the population. It would be, Holiness, that as the bishop of my diocese of departure (Rome) so are you the bishop of my diocese of arrival from the from the moment it was called a "Vicariate apostolic." And it's to this double title that I deliver the letter of the three Georgians.
In the name of all the Georgians we greet you.
We ask God for your greeting in the name of Jesus.
We're so happy that God chose you as Pope. Pray for us, for the poor, for the troubled ones of all the world, for the children. We believe that your prayers go directly to God. The Georgians are very poor, in debt, without homes and without work. We're without strength.
We're living in Trabzon right now and working. Pray that God blesses us and creates in us a new and clean heart. We won't forget the Christian life and for the Turks we seek to be a good example in God's name so that, through us, they may see and glorify God.
We have many things to say and tell but, Inshallah [Arabic for "God willing"], if you come to Trabzon we can speak face to face. Your coming will be a joyous feast. We ask of God and we wish you good health, peace and the life of Christ. We kiss your hands. We will be happy if you can respond to us and send us an autographed photo. As our common father, pray for Don Andrea and Loredana, that God may give them strength and that, through them, the church may grow and multiply at Trabzon.
Maria, Marina and Maria."
In the name of the other Georgian Christians, we invite you to Trabzon for your coming visit to Turkey in November.
I unite myself to these three women in inviting you to come among us. It is a small flock, as Jesus said, but one that seeks to be salt, leaven and light on this earth. One visit from you, however quick, would be a consolation and encouragement for them. If God wishes it... for God nothing is impossible.
I greet you and thank you for everything. Your books were nourishment for me during my theology studies. Bless me. And may God bless and assist you.

Don Andrea Santoro
Priest "Fidei donum" of the diocese of Rome in Turkey,
diocese of Anatolia, city of Trabzon on the Black Sea,
Church of "Sancta Maria".

PHOTO: AP/Tekin Atay