The parents of a Turkish teenager convicted of killing an Italian Catholic priest last year, met relatives of the victim yesterday, at a memorial service to mark the first anniversary of his death. The couple visited the Santa Maria Catholic Church, in Trabzon, where Father Andrea Santoro, 61, was shot dead as he knelt in prayer on 5 February, 2006. They expressed their sympathy to Fr Santoro's mother and two sisters and to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of the Italian Bishops' Conference. The mayor of Trabzon, Volkan Canalioglu said: "It was a very emotional moment. The boy's mother kissed the Cardinal's hand and she and her husband expressed their condolences and deep sadness. Father Santoro's family told them they would be praying both for Santoro and the boy," he added. Fr Santoro was killed at a time when riots were taking place across the Muslim world over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. But the reasons for the killing have never been confirmed. The trial was held behind closed doors because of the killer's young age. He was sentenced to 18 years and 10 months. Witnesses had said that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akhbar" ("God Is Great") as he fired two shots at the priest before fleeing. Several newspapers suggested that the boy's action was instigated by Islamist extremists. But his father said his son had no links with religious groups and was receiving psychological support. Cardinal Ruini, who led the memorial service, called for reconciliation and understanding between Islam and Christianity. "We are here today in the spirit of Father Andrea Santoro, respecting Islam and considering Turkey and the Turkish people our friends. We are also here to show that dialogue between religions is possible and desirable," he said. Although attacks on Christians in Turkey are usually very rare, five days after Fr Santoro was gunned down, another Catholic priest was harassed and threatened in the western city of Izmir. In July, a third was stabbed by a man described as "mentally disturbed" in Samsun. During a visit to Turkey in November, Pope Benedict XVI remembered Fr Santoro and called on Ankara to ensure the religious freedom of its tiny Christian communities. Santa Maria Catholic Church was built to serve foreign visitors in the 19th century on the orders of an Ottoman sultan. It now has a community of about 20 worshippers.
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