Christian martyr in 'European' Turkey

Wlodzimierz Redzioch

The Catholic organisation Aid to the Church in Need is alarming: the times of persecutions and Christian martyrdom have returned, hostility towards the Catholic Church is increasing everywhere and Christianophobia also appears in the liberal-libertarian societies of the West. Christians' life is especially hard and dangerous in the Islamic countries. Recently we have had another evidence of that - the murder of Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary priest who was killed in Turkey. This crime is shocking because he was killed in the country that is called 'secular' and aspires to enter the European Union.
Fr Santoro was the parish priest in one of the Roman parishes for many years. However, he always wished to go on missions. For many years Cardinal Camillo Ruini did not give him his consent because he did not want to 'lose' a good priest. Finally, he gave him his permission and in the year 2000 Fr Andrea could go to Turkey as fidei donum priest. Why to Turkey? Because he thought that Turkey was really a holy land: 'the Apostles (at least eight of them) stayed and taught here for a long time, early Christianity originated and developed here; the first seven councils were held here; the Mother of God stayed here with John the Apostle; the Gospel and the Apocalypse of John were written here'. On this 'holy land', once Christian, today Turkish and Muslim, Fr Santoro wanted to be a witness to Christ and at the same time he wanted to be a man of dialogue with Islam. In the beginning the Roman priest helped pilgrims who came in groups organised by the well known agency Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi. Then he moved to Trabzon (ancient Trapezunt) on the Black See, where he was the parish priest in the little church of the Mother of God. To tell you the truth, his pastoral care embraced only eight people, including three Georgian women, with whom he wrote a moving letter to Benedict XVI.
The killer of Fr Santoro was some Ohuzan Akdil. How did it happen that this 16 year-old boy, coming from the so-called normal family, killed a defenceless priest who was praying at church. He fired two shots into the priest's back, shouting 'Allah Akbar' (God is great)? The answer to this question could be the words of the boy's father, 'He received orders through the Internet", and the headline of the Turkish newspaper Vatan 'Stuffed by fanatics'. The investigation showed that the boy used to go to an Internet cafe, which was a meeting place of fanatic young people, influenced by radical nationalistic and Islamic ideas. There he met a student, some Husseiyn, and they became friends. They often talked about religious themes and about the 'danger' of foreign Christian missionaries in Turkey. Husseiyn invited him for meetings with a 'master', called Ali. The theme of one meeting was the issue of Muhammad's caricatures in the Danish press. The atmosphere of the meeting was very violent. The gathered men claimed that the West had insulted Islam and wanted to destroy it and that's why they sent missionaries who gave money to young people so that they would choose Christianity (those gossips were publicised in the media). They lamented that in Trabzon there was a priest whom they should get rid of. In the mood of common excitement Ohuzan Akdil declared, 'I will kill him'. The others applauded and called him 'a hero of Islam'. On Sunday of 5th February the boy took the gun of his elder brother and together with his 9 year-old step brother and some friend went to the church. The younger boys watched and Akdil went to the church to execute the sentence and kill 'the enemy of Turkey and Islam'. Then he hid in his mother's house (the parents got divorced and mother lived alone) and he told her everything. Immediately his mother took him to the barber's to have his hair cut, hoping that nobody would recognise him. In spite of that the police managed to identify and arrest the young murderer. He confessed to the policemen that he had murdered a Catholic priest because he was shocked by the caricatures of Muhammad and that his 'example' was Ali Agca.
The fact that the murder of Fr Santoro was not a surprise but it 'matured' in the atmosphere of hatred towards the West and Christianity, shared by some part of the Turkish society, and of hostility of its radical wings, was confirmed by another incident, which happened several days after the event in Trabzon. Some Catholic priests in Izmir (ancient Smyrna) at the other end of the country were an object of aggression. Seven or eight assailants at the age of about 25 forced their way into the building of the church of St Helen's parish, run by the Franciscans. One of the assailants began strangling a Slovenian priest Martin Kmetec, shouting 'Allah Akbar' and 'This is your end. You are going to die. We will kill you all'. It is not known whether the aim of that nationalistic-Islamic band was only to frighten the priests or to kill them. The fact is that the aggressors left without killing their victim. The police began to watch the church just in case.
But on 11 March 2006 there was another attempt to kill another Catholic priest in Turkey. The incident occurred in the town of Mersin in the south. The assailant attacked a Capuchin priest Hanri Leylek with an 80-centimetre knife. The young Turk came to the presbytery, saying that he wanted to speak to a priest. At first he uttered curses upon him and then draw the knife. However, the monk was able to push the aggressor away and ran away. The international charity Aid to the Church in Need, which has supported the Christian minority in Turkey, expressed concern at the escalation of violence in this country. Norbert Neuhaus, secretary-general of Aid to the Church in Need, stressed that the Turkish Catholics 'are scared'. He appealed to the Turkish government to ensure security of the followers of Christ in this country. Commenting on the events in Turkey Bishop Luigi Padovese, the apostolic vicar in Anatolia, said that the situation of Christian in that country was becoming more and more complicated, which was the consequence of the increasing hostility that could be noticed in the society, and what was worse, in the mass media. Bishop Padovese gave an interview to 'Niedziela', which we have published in this issue.

"Niedziela" 17/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: