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Turkish Government Denies Request for Church in Tarsus
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2009
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Despite a personal request from Pope Benedict XVI and repeated requests by Christian leaders in Turkey, the Turkish government has decided that the only church in Tarsus, the city of St. Paul's birth, will remain a government museum.

The Church of St. Paul, built as a Catholic church in the 1800s and confiscated by the government in 1943, was used throughout the 2008-2009 year of St. Paul for prayer services by Christian pilgrims.

After the end of the yearlong celebration commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul's birth, the Turkish government decided the building could not be used exclusively for worship.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the apostolic vicar for Anatolia and president of the Catholic bishops' conference of Turkey, told the Vatican newspaper Aug. 1 that the government decided to return to the practice of allowing Christians to pray in the church as long as they made reservations three days in advance and bought an admission ticket.

Meeting the Turkish bishops in February during their "ad limina" visits to Rome to report on the status of their dioceses, Pope Benedict had expressed his hopes that the government would give Christians permanent use of the building for prayer.

Bishop Padovese told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that in addition to asking Christians to pay to enter the church, Turkish authorities have placed a time limit on Masses and other prayer services so they do not disrupt the normal operation of the museum.

"It is a lack of respect for the right to religious freedom and freedom to worship," the bishop said.


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