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Catholic World News News Feature

Priest's killing shocks Christians in Turkey February 06, 2006

A Catholic priest was shot and killed in Trabzon, Turkey, on Sunday, and authorities there are investigating whether the murder was related to Islamic anger over cartoons published in European newspapers.

Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary priest who had served in Turkey for 10 years, was shot twice at point-blank range in his church in the port town on the Black Sea. The gunman shouted, "Allah is great!" before running out of the church.

Bishop Luigi Padovese of Anatolia, who rushed to the scene on hearing of the priest's death, told the AsiaNews service that the timing of the killing-- as Muslim militants around the world protest the cartoons mocking Islam-- "does not seem incidental to me." The bishop reported that the atmosphere in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, "is heated, not to say overheated." Christian churches were under heavy security in the aftermath of the killing.

Government investigators are also considering the possibilities that the assassin was a lone fanatic or that he was connected with the thriving prostitution business in Trabzon. Father Santoro had helped many young woman escape from lives of prostitution.

AsiaNews reported that the killer's face was apparently recorded by a videocamera at a jewelry store adjacent to the church.

Pope Benedict XVI praised the slain priest for his work "in service of those marginalized and in need" in Turkey. He expressed his hope that "his blood shed may be a seed of hope for the building of authentic fraternity among people." The Pope's condolences were expressed in messages to Bishop Padovese and to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Father Santoro's home diocese in Rome.

In remarks to the Italian daily La Repubblica, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins said that Father Santoro stands in the long line of martyrs who have died for the faith. While the reasons for the killing are not yet clear, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said that with the killing, "the Church is once again colored in red, the color of the blood of martyrs."

"This has always happened, and unfortunately this will happen again," said the Spanish cardinal. "Despite these tragedies, missionaries continue to proclaim the word of Christ, with the sentiments of peace, love and pardon-- pardon which ought to be given to the assassin of Father Andrea."

Questioned about a possible link between the killing and Islamic hostility, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said that he wanted to be "prudent" about jumping to conclusions. In any case, he said, it would be wrong to speak of a "religious conflict," because "every faith is against war and against the misuse of the image of God."

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