01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3

New Persecutions

Life as

by Paola Bergamini

“You don’t have to aim at being good, but at being holy,” were the oft-repeated words of Fr. Andrea Santoro, killed by a sixteen-year-old on Sunday, February 5th, while he was kneeling in prayer in his church of Saint Mary’s in Trabzon, on the Black Sea, in Turkey. He had been a fidei donum parish priest of this small community, formed of about ten Catholics in a population of two hundred thousand inhabitants, mostly Muslim, with a strong Orthodox presence. In 1993, he first traveled on pilgrimage to Turkey, in what he defined as “the great Holy Land where God decided to communicate Himself in a special way to man.” He returned many times to the Middle East with the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi. During these journeys, his desire grew to fulfill his priestly vocation in the land where Christianity took its first steps. He was already parish priest of the Church of Saints Fabian and Venanzio in Rome when he requested several times of Cardinal Poletti and then Cardinal Ruini to be sent as a fidei donum priest to Turkey. “This was precisely the heart with which Fr. Andrea asked to go to Anatolia,” said Cardinal Ruini during the funeral homily. “He intended to be the presence of a believer and a friend, to promote an exchange of gifts, above all spiritual ones, between the East and Rome, between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.” In 2000, he departed. His first posting was Urfa, near Harran, the land of origin of Abraham, and then three years ago he transferred to Trabzon, in the parish of Saint Mary’s, which had been without a priest for over three years. There he continued silently, without sensational gestures, just with his presence, to testify to Christ’s love for men. “I often ask myself why I’m here,” he said during a spiritual retreat, “and then St. John’s expression comes to mind: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ I am here to live in the midst of this people and permit Jesus to do so, lending Him my flesh. The Middle East must be re-inhabited as it was yesterday by Jesus: with long silences, with humility and simplicity of life, with works of faith, with miracles of charity, with limpid, unarmed witness, and with the conscious gift of one’s life.” And so it was.
Benedict XVI, during the February 8th audience, only a few days after the death of Fr. Andrea, said, “May the Lord welcome the soul of this silent and courageous servant of the Gospel. May the sacrifice of his life contribute to the cause of dialogue among religions and of peace among peoples.”