Pope honors slain priest at Mass

Published 7:47 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday honored the memory of a Roman Catholic priest who was slain amid Muslim anger over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers.

A Turkish teenager shot the priest in February as he knelt in prayer in his church in the Black Sea port of Trabzon. The attack was believed linked to the outrage over the cartoons. Two other Catholic priests also were attacked in Turkey this year.

“Let us sing joyfully, even when we’re tested by difficulties and dangers as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Rev. Andrea Santoro, whom I am pleased to recall in this celebration,” Benedict said at an outdoor Mass.

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On Tuesday, the first day of his trip to Turkey, the pope urged religious leaders of all faiths to “utterly refuse” to support any form of violence in the name of faith. On his first visit to a Muslim country, he expressed support for measures that Turkey has taken in its campaign to join the European Union.

Benedict on Wednesay cited one of his predecessors, Pope John XXIII, who served as a papal diplomat in Turkey in the 1940s. He quoted him as saying, “I love the Turks. I appreciate the natural qualities of these people, who have their own place reserved in the march of civilization.”

While reaching out to the Turks and the larger Muslim world during his trip, Benedict also reached out to this country’s Catholics, describing them as “the little flock” in largely Muslim Turkey. He said he wanted to “offer a word of encouragement and to manifest the affection of the whole church.”

“With great love, I greet all of you here present,” he told 250 worshippers who gathered next to the ruins of a house where the Virgin Mary is thought to have spent her last years.

“I have wanted to convey my personal love and spiritual closeness, together with that of the universal church, to the Christian community here in Turkey, a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily,” the pope said.

A paramilitary helicopter hovered low over the crowd as the pope arrived, and registered guests went through three separate metal detectors before reaching the sacred site.

A military policeman said security details were not given out to officers until the last minute, apparently to keep the pope’s exact travel route secret.

St. John the Apostle is believed to have brought the Virgin Mary to the house to care for her after Jesus’ death. Another belief maintains that the Virgin Mary died in Jerusalem.

The ruins of the house, whose earliest foundations date to the first century, have become a popular pilgrimage site since the 1950s. A chapel was built over the ruins, and some believe in the healing powers of both the chapel and waters flowing from a nearby spring. The site is nestled on a wooded mountain between the ancient city of Ephesus and the town of Selcuk, near the Aegean coast.

Of Turkey’s 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic, and 3,500 are Protestant, mostly converts from Islam. Another 2,000 are Greek Orthodox and 23,000 are Jewish. The European Union has called on Turkey to expand religious freedoms.

The pope planned to travel to Istanbul later Wednesday to meet Bartholomew I, leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Benedict split in 1054 over differences in opinion on the power of the papacy. The two spiritual heads will meet in an attempt to breach the divide and reunite the churches.