Church of St Paul in Tarsus again to become a place of worship
Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
When in May this year the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin visited Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, they were surprised to find that the Church of St Paul in that city was a museum, and not ordinarily a place where a group of pilgrims celebrated Mass.
The main centre of pilgrimage is the well of St Paul, which is situated in a courtyard at the centre of the town, long believed to be the site of St. Paul's house.
But recently the Turkish government has agreed to allow Christian worship once again in that church.
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 Padovese 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 Padovese 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.
Picture shows St Paul's Church, Tarsus
by Patrick Duffy