A 16-year-old youth is serving an 18-year prison sentence for the murder, which was believed to be linked to the outrage over the publication of the caricatures in European newspapers.
"I hope this service will help deepen our friendship," Cardinal Camillo Ruini, accompanied by Santoro's mother and two sisters, told reporters upon his arrival in Trabzon. "I hope it will help us find the truth and bring us closer to God," added Ruini.
Maddelana Santoro, the sister of the deceased Father Santoro -- a theology teacher -- said that she and her family forgave the killer with all their hearts and that they still believe in interfaith dialogue, as did their brother.
In an exclusive interview she gave to Today's Zaman in the small and simply decorated working room of Santoro that is adjoined to the Santa Maria Church where he was killed, Maddelana Santoro said their brother was very happy to be in Turkey.
"He loved beauty. That's why he was so happy to stay in Turkey. It was his decision. From a religious point of view, these are holy lands. They are the lands of belief; Prophet Abraham was born in this land and God gave his mission to him here. The Apostles were also in Anatolia. They came to these holy lands first and announced the New Testament here. These lands were the center for Christianity before the message spread to Europe."
She said she visited her brother with 10 of her friends in September of 2005. She added that Santoro took them to churches on the Aegean coast and then to the mosques in Trabzon because he believed in interfaith dialogue.
"While he was here, he used to speak about dialogue between religions and talked about love and that he was trying to live according to these ideals. He told us that if you act like sheep, then the people will approach in an innocent way; if you stay pure and peaceful, people will love you. He liked to live among people because he believed that Jesus would carry love to people through his body."
When asked about the wars going on due to conflicts over religion, she said that this was because people had lost their beliefs.
"People should return back to their beliefs because lack of belief is replaced by hostility and animosity. This is the main reason behind all these evil events that we are witnessing. Freedom is the biggest gift that God has given humanity. But the bases of freedom should come from love and respect. This must be the starting point. Nothing can be done by force. As my brother always said, 'Life is a road and the human being is walking on this road in order to develop himself.' This applies to all of us. Eastern and Western countries should walk together. They need to take this long road throughout life -- we still have a long road ahead of us."
She said that when she heard about the murder of Hrant Dink, she prayed and wished that one day everybody in Turkey would be able to voice their ideas in love and respect; everybody should have freedom of expression. She said that she would always remember her brother as a person who was enthusiastic and willing to share love. She added that they never felt any hostility toward anyone following his death.
"We are a religious family. We know the New Testament. Before Jesus died, he said 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
When asked if she had forgiven the killer, she replied: "Yes. Yes. My family and I have forgiven with all our hearts."
Violence against Christians
Trabzon, on Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast, has come under intense scrutiny following the killing of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink last month. Dink spoke out about the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century, drawing the wrath of nationalists.
Prosecutors have charged eight people in connection with the killing, including a teenage gunman and an alleged instigator, who, like Santoro's killer, were from Trabzon.
Pope Benedict XVI remembered Santoro --- who worked toward interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims -- during his visit to Turkey in November of 2006.
Santoro's killing was one of the many recent attacks against Christians in this predominantly Muslim country. Two other Catholic priests were attacked last year in Turkey, where Christians have often voiced that they are of victims of discrimination and persecution.
A group of young men attacked and threatened a Catholic priest in the Aegean port city of Izmir. The priest, a Slovenian, told Italian state TV at the time that the men grabbed him by the throat, threw him into a garden and threatened to kill him.
A French priest, Pierre Brunissen, 74, suffered a hip and leg injury when a man stabbed him. The attack took place in the Black Sea port city of Samsun.
Of Turkey's 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic, and 3,500 are Protestants. Around 2,000 are Greek Orthodox while 23,000 are Jewish.
Today's ZamanGüncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16