Religious Intelligence Ltd, UK
May 7 2008
Turkey told to return ancient church
Wednesday, 7th May 2008. 4:40pm
By: George Conger.
ROMAN CATHOLIC leaders will support mosque building in Germany, if the
Turkish government returns the Church of St Paul in Tarsus to church
control and permits the construction of a pilgrimage centre.
Writing in his diocesan newspaper, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal
Joachim Meisner, said he had written to Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan urging his government return the church, built on the site of
St Paul’s birthplace, as a gesture of European cooperation.
Confiscated by the Turkish government following the expulsion of
Christians from Asia Minor in the 1920s, the Church of St Paul was
used as an army warehouse for 70 years, until it was turned into a
museum. Originally an Armenian Church, it became a Byzantine church in
the early Middle Ages.
No native Christians live in Tarsus, the Turkish government reports,
though a Christian presence is maintained by three Italian sisters of
the Roman Catholic order of the Daughters of the Church, and from
airmen at a nearby US military base. Worship at the church may take
place only after a licence has been granted by the local authority
upon payment of a fee.
Germany’s Catholic bishops have not opposed mosque building for the
country’s Turkish immigrant population, however they believe Turkey
must modify its harsh treatment of Christians. The Roman Catholic
Church has also been skeptical of Turkish membership in the EU.
Returning the church would be an `extremely important symbol,’ the
head of inter-religious dialogue for the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop
Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg told Der Spiegel. "It would be very
helpful towards the acceptance of Turks in Germany if a sign of
acceptance of Christians were to be seen in Turkey."
During a March visit to Cologne, President Erdogan told a press
conference that `as soon as the Church makes this request of me, I
will make a statement in support, even if it goes against the
Christian pilgrims are expected to visit Tarsus, located close to
Turkey’s border with Syria, to celebrate the anniversary of Paul’s
birth in June.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity will lead worship at the church to mark the
In 1920 Christians comprised almost 20 per cent of Turkey’s
population. Today they comprise less than 0.1 per cent. The Turkish
government extends official recognition to the Armenian, Catholic and
Orthodox minorities, and tolerates Anglican and other churches that
serve the expatriate community. However Turkey’s estimated 5,000
native Protestants, converts from Islam, operate in a legal limbo as
without government approval, no religious community may exist in
Muslim clerics are also kept on a short leash and must submit their
sermons to state authorities. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa
Kemal AtatÃ¼rk instituted this rule to keep Islam under state
control and preserve the secular government.
British Christian leaders have been skeptical of Turkish membership in
the EU also. Following the controversy sparked by Pope Benedict XVI’s
comments on Islam in 2006, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor told the
Times, `I think the question is for Europe: will the admission of
Turkey to the European Union be something that benefits a proper
dialogue or integration of a very large, predominantly Islamic country
in a continent that, fundamentally, is Christian?’
The former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey told the Today
programme that `Surely a European community has to be more than
economic? It has to have common values.’
In a 2005 address to the European Policy Centre in Brussels,
Archbishop Rowan Williams said the debate about admitting Turkey to
the EU had exposed concerns about Europe’s historic Christian
identity. "Europe is what it is because of its Christian history,’ he
argued, warning that if the Church were excluded from public debate,
liberal modernity would be transformed into another pseudo-religion
centered round `a vague set of nostrums about democracy and