WARSAW, Poland – A church official in Turkey said the country’s authorities are failing to consult about plans for the 2,000th anniversary year of St. Paul’s birth in the southern city of Tarsus.
“Although government representatives from Ankara have been here, they haven’t spoken to me,” said Bishop Luigi Padovese of Anatolia, Turkey. “Our own preparations are well advanced, so they need to know about our plans. But they haven’t announced any decisions, so everything still looks uncertain.”
Bishop Padovese told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 25 telephone interview that he had asked the mayor of Tarsus to provide facilities for pilgrims and rooms for priests to prepare for services.
“But I said we need a church above all, since people will be coming here not just as tourists, but also to pray,” the bishop said. The city’s 12th-century St. Paul Church currently is a state-owned museum.
“I think the central Turkish government is well disposed toward us. But we must know what they’re doing,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI convoked 2008-09 as a special Pauline year and said the celebrations should have a special ecumenical character.
The anniversary will begin June 21-22 and include a Mass in Tarsus celebrated by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It also will include a national pilgrimage to sites associated with St. Paul.
Bishop Padovese said the church was still awaiting answers to event invitations sent to Orthodox and other religious leaders. He added that he expected “reasonable cooperation” from Muslims, who make up most of Turkey’s 70 million inhabitants, but feared some events could face disruption by nationalists.
“As the apostle of Christian unity, St. Paul would want Christians in Turkey to be more conscious of their identity,” he said. “We count on this anniversary to help strengthen our church’s legal position and reveal what the Turkish government really thinks about human rights.”
A pastoral letter from the bishops’ conference, which includes Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean Catholic leaders, was read in churches Jan. 25, urging Christians to “intensify dialogue with the Muslim world” while remaining true to their religious faith.
Most of Turkey’s more than 70 million citizens are Sunni Muslims. Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the Turkish population, often have complained of discrimination in Turkey.
The European Union began accession talks with Turkey in October 2005. Turkey’s record on human rights, including religious rights, is a condition on which its accession to the EU depends.