VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI recalled the sacrifice of a cleric slain in Turkey as the pontiff on Thursday celebrated a Holy Week Mass dedicated to priests.
In his homily, Benedict read a letter written by the Rev. Andrea Santoro in which the Italian prelate spoke of his willingness to offer his own body for the sake of preaching Catholicism in largely Muslim Turkey.
Santoro, 60, was shot and killed Feb. 5 while he prayed in his parish in the Black Sea city of Trabzon. Witnesses said the killer, a 16-year-old boy, screamed "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," before firing two bullets into Santoro's back.
Benedict quoted Santoro as saying in his letter that he had chosen to live in Turkey to be among its people, "lending" his body to Christ to do so.
"One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one's own body," Santoro wrote.
Santoro's slaying occurred at the height of unrest in the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Europe. Top church officials have called Santoro a martyr.
Benedict's homily came during a Mass dedicated to priests who during Holy Week recall the promises they made when they were ordained. The Mass, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica, came hours before another service in which Benedict was to wash the feet of 12 men to commemorate Jesus' Last Supper with his 12 apostles.
Pope John Paul II traditionally wrote a separate letter to priests that coincided with the Holy Thursday Mass, addressing subjects such as celibacy. Benedict didn't follow that tradition, but he used his homily to remind priests of their promises to serve God.
He referred to the rites of ordination in which a bishop lays his hands on the priest, as well as the oil used in the sacrament to anoint the priests' hands. During Thursday's Mass, huge silver vats of oil were blessed.
"Let us put our hands today again at (God's) disposition and pray that he takes our hands to guide us," Benedict said. "Let his hand take ours so we won't sink, but will serve life which is stronger than death, and love which is stronger than hatred."
Holy Thursday and Good Friday services, in which Benedict will preside over the re-enactment of Jesus' suffering, crucifixion and death, are among the most solemn on the church calendar, and come in advance of Easter Sunday, when the faithful celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead.
In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II distributed specially minted silver coins to 160 senior citizens Thursday in a centuries-old Holy Week ceremony derived from Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet.
English monarchs commemorated the foot-washing on the Thursday before Easter from at least the 13th century. The rite grew to elaborate proportions under the Tudor monarchs, who distributed fish, bread, wine, shoes and stockings and pennies.