Pope Prays for Slain Priest With Turkish Catholics
Recalls Sacrifice of Father Andrea Santoro

EPHESUS, Turkey, NOV. 29, 2006 ( Zenit.org).- During a Mass attended by Turkish Catholic faithful, Benedict XVI mentioned the difficulties this small minority experiences and remembered the priest who was murdered in Turkey earlier this year.

Catholics, especially from Izmir, Mersin, Iskenderun and Antakia, gathered in front of the Meryem Ana Evi (House of Mother Mary) shrine, for the open-air Mass today.

"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," said the Pope during a homily delivered in Italian but translated into Turkish.

Almost all of Turkey's 70 million-plus inhabitants are Muslim. Catholics number about 30,000.

The Catholic Church does not enjoy juridical recognition in Turkey. It is virtually impossible for non-Muslim religious communities to build new churches or repair existing ones.

Turkey is one of the members of the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development which does not respect fully the right of religious liberty. The situation is similar in Belarus and Bosnia.

The Holy Father invited Catholics to sing the Magnificat, the hymn of the Virgin Mary, in "praise and thanksgiving to God."

"Let us sing joyfully, even when we are tested by difficulties and dangers, as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Roman priest [Father] Andrea Santoro, whom I am pleased to recall in this celebration," said the Pontiff.

Father Santoro, 61, was killed on Feb. 5 while praying in the church of Trabzon, at the height of the crisis unleashed by the publication in some Western newspapers of caricatures offensive to Islam. The suspect in the case, a mental patient according to the authorities, has been put on trial.

Father Pierre Brunissen, a French priest who reopened Father Santoro's church, was stabbed on July 2. Police arrested a suspect in that case. Two other religious have been attacked in recent months.