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Turkish government allows Christian worship in birthplace of St Paul

The Turkish government has agreed to allow Christian worship once again, in a church in Tarsus, the  birthplace of St Paul.

Bishop Luigi Padovese,  head of the Turkish Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference said: "I'm confident the church in Tarsus could soon change from being a museum to a centre of spiritual pilgrimage.

“A final ruling on whether services will continue here now lies with the local authorities in Tarsus itself, who can make the current provisional permission for ongoing services definitive."

Bishop Luigi said the Turkish government had already given its consent for Christian services in the church after a record influx of 416 Christian groups from 30 countries to Tarsus during the Year of St. Paul, which ended last month.

"For the first time, Turkish Muslims have witnessed Christians, not as tourists, but as praying pilgrims, whose devotion has made a lasting impression on the Turkish people," said the bishop.

St Paul's church, which appears on the UN World Heritage list, was confiscated by the Turkish government in 1943 for use as a state museum. It is currently also used under a government license for regular services by fee-paying Christian visitors.

Turkey's 32,000-member Catholic Church asked Prime Minister Erdogan to permanently return the building, which was a focus for Christian culture until the regime of Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s.

Bishop Luigi said he believed the Turkish government is now ready to classify Tarsus as a Christian pilgrimage site, but he said European Christians must continue demanding a permanent solution.

He said: "A certain amount of public pressure is helpful, but only if it originates from love for Turkey and a genuine wish for religious freedom to grow in the country.”

Source: ACN