Love Where There Could Have Been Hate

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2006

I have just returned from Rome, where a senior member of the Curia asked me to tell readers of The Window the following story. You may have already heard its beginning but in all likelihood, not its end.

On Sunday, February 5, 2006, while praying in his church, an Italian priest by the name of Fr. Andrea Santoro was shot and killed by a young man who shouted, “Allahu akbar,” or “Allah is great.”

Fr. Santoro was a priest of the diocese of Rome who was serving in the city of Trabzon, Turkey, as part of a Vatican missionary program called “Fidei Donum” (Gift of Faith). The 60-year-old priest had been ministering in Turkey for six years where, from all reports, he was a man deeply committed to fostering understanding between the east and west, as well as peace among religions. He also served the poor and was notably active in the fight against sex trafficking of Christian women, a practice common in the region.

At Fr., Santoro’s funeral, which was attended by thousands including political and Church leaders, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, affirmed that he intended to open the priest’s cause for canonization. He also reported, “With all her heart the mother of Father Andrea forgives the person who armed himself to kill her son, and she feels great pain for him because he, too, is a son of the one God who is love.”

Television cameras recording the funeral panned to where the mother of the slain priest sat and showed her nodding at the Cardinal’s words. A member of the Curia told me that it was an extremely powerful moment of forgiveness, one which deeply touched all who saw it on Italian television. He thought it was important to bring it to the attention of American Catholics.

But there is more. Fr. Thomas K. Williams, a Legionary priest who teaches at their seminary in Rome, alerted me to another part of the story.

In response to the forgiveness of Fr. Santoro’s mother, the father of the killer, Hikmet Akdin, told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera,”I know, and ever since I heard those words I have a desire in my heart. I want to save enough money to go to Italy and kiss that woman’s hands as a sign of gratitude. Please tell her how much I appreciate her goodness, which has touched me. I want to embrace her. She’s a courageous woman, and I’m sure is an excellent mother. I’ll kiss her hands if it’s the last act of my life.”

Through these statements of his mother and the father of his killer, Fr. Santoro’s death, as well as his life, gives witness to the words he wrote in a letter published in his online magazine, “Window to the Middle East.” In what turned out to be his last letter to his readers, he wrote:

“Moreover, Jesus said: ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness.’ If his light illuminates us, not only will it illuminate every situation, even the most tragic, but in addition we too, as he always said, will be light. The tenuous light of a candle illuminates a house; an extinguished lamp leaves everything in darkness. May he shine in us with his Word, with his Spirit, with the sap of his saints. May our life be the wax that is consumed willingly.”

We all find it hard to forgive. Sometimes we justify our lack of forgiveness by thinking the wrong suffered is too painful to forget. What could cause greater pain than the loss of a child? In the example of this mother’s forgiveness, we see an act of love where we normally see the birth of hate.

This is the message, I believe, I was asked to convey to you at this moment, the beginning of our Lenten season.

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