Community of Sant'Egidio

6th February 2006  

Vigil of prayer in memory of Don Andrea Santoro,
man of peace and dialogue


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" The death of a Christian is a call to peace."

A meditation of Andrea Riccardi during the vigil of prayer in Santa Maria in Trastevere, on 6th February 2006. It was held in memory of Don Andrea Santoro, priest from Rome, who was brutally killed in Trebzon Turkey, having just celebrated a Holy Mass.


"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master.”

Mathew 10, 16-24

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus addresses these words to his disciples. But we have often forgotten that they involve us as well. Yet a sheep of the flock, a servant of God, a priest from Rome, Andrea Santoro, has been killed as if indeed in the midst of wolves. His funeral will be celebrated this coming Friday. I call to mind the words that Ghassan Tueni spoke at the funeral of his murdered son: “Today I do not call for revenge or hatred; rather, as my son is buried, I want to see hatred buried once and for all”. The death of a Christian is a call to peace.
Don Andrea was killed in Trebzon, in the tiny church of Santa Maria, in which he had just celebrated Sunday Eucharist among that dwindling congregation. There was a time in which the Christian community flourished in that place: ancient churches, monasteries, liturgies celebrated in a many tongues and according to many rites; when the chants of Armenians intertwined with those of Greeks. This was at the beginning of the last century. It was cancelled out by terrible massacres and movements of peoples in the wake of the political events of the First World War. The modern city conceals an older history of suffering, of the deaths of many Christians through exhausting treks, in massacres, or by drowning at sea. But this history goes back to nearly one hundred years ago.
Thus it happened in Turkey, once a land of Christians too: for it was home to the spreading of the Christian message, birthplace of the apostle Paul, citizen of Tarsus, of his evangelism, and of the Communities of the Apocalypse. A few Christians, very few, survive – phantom-like remnants of an old tale – like those of Tur Abdin in Syria, where they held on for over 15 hundred years, but are today no more. They seem like castaways, survivors of a historical shipwreck. Without a future. Old tales that fail to move anybody any more, even if the names of those cities are familiar to friends of the Bible. And yet somebody returns there. What for? Andrea Santoro, at the age of sixty, set out, following a calling drawing him to that land. A missionary? It was not a vocation to go and preach, rather to say, through his presence, that God is love, God loves all of us: him, the Christians, the Turks, the Moslems, the Jews. Not a mission of little note.
That is a holy land, blessed by the feet of those who came announcing the Gospel: that Orient out of which rose the sun of Jesus’ teaching, illuminating the world. This land, which brought forth Paul and many more, cannot be left without the mission of love. Andrea Santoro chose to live from 2000 on in a Turkish city on the Black Sea coast, far from the world of Rome – whether the ecclesiastical world, or that of the Roman suburb where he had been parish priest – in the land of the downfall of Christendom. With tenderness for the people; with a truly Roman sense of sympathy for others’ suffering, with sensitivity, with much prayer, he awaited the dawn of a new day. With patience, without haste…
On Sunday came death. A death which – so they are saying – was inflicted by a youth who cried out “Allah akbar – God is great”, as if calling a cry of war. Madness? Certainly, it was an act that fits in with the present climate of rage in the Moslem world, or at least in one part of it, following their discovery of the satirical cartoons of Mohammed. No, at that hour God was not great, but humiliated, as in the hour of his passion: humiliated that the name of the Eternal should be uttered while the blood of a friend was being spilt. It is not for us to say that this is not Islam; but this, certainly, is not humanity.
Poor Don Andrea: he is gone; together with his dreams, with his goodness, with his messages to his Roman friends, with his Internet site, window on the Middle East, with his passion for Eastern Christianity, for the recollections of a great past, for the leftovers of the present. A good priest, restless son of the Council, companion of our Don Vincenzo, he demonstrated the saintly quality of a restlessness turned missionary zeal: an example for the priests and Christians of Rome. At the age of sixty he left us and set forth. Like a sheep in the midst of wolves.
Was it a Moslem, that killed him? “Brother will hand over brother to death.” This is a matter of the greatest gravity. The story of Cain and Abel is revisiting us. Because Don Andrea was no more than a brother. He wanted to be a brother to the Muslims. Like Brother Carlo di Gesù, idiotically killed in the Sahara Desert and beatified by Benedict XVI. Murderers are always idiots. Don Andrea died as a brother in a city deserted of Christians, a brother among people he loved. Until when shall brother hand over brother to death? Until when, as in Lebanon, their churches shall be burned? “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made” says the Pact of Noah, by which each of us is bound, whatever our religion be.
No hand shall be raised in vengeance. This is not because we are weak, but because we know that “as strong as death is love”. Stones and knives can rob us of one presence of love, as of Christian love, but they will not prevent us from loving. The blood which was spilt was that of one who was hated for Jesus’ sake. Maybe only one person hated him; or perhaps it was ten or a hundred: I don’t know. But his life is Gospel. His spilled blood reveals to us just how precious that land is. It appears to be a land barren of Christian fruit, useless of cultivation, pointless to give your life for it… So speaks common sense. But not to Don Andrea Santoro, priest from Rome’s periphery, deceased in modern Turkey, where he could still discern the footprints of the apostles. Should we not then, too, dear Brothers and Sisters, love those lands even more? Love the Christians still remaining there, the non-Christians now living there? This too is love: it seems a sterile love, a love of the close of the day, like the love we have for the elderly. But without this sunset – and this is something that martyrs understand – there is no dawn. It is a gold-lined sunset, as precious as the blood of the friends of God, in whom, mysteriously, is concealed the resurrection.