Pauline Year to Put Tarsus in Limelight

Town in Turkey Needs Church for Pilgrims, Says Bishop

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By Nieves San Martín

ROME, JAN. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Coordinators of the jubilee year of St. Paul say that Turkey will have a strategic role during the commemoration, since Tarsus was the birth place of the saint.

Benedict XVI proclaimed a jubilee year of St. Paul from June 28, 2008, to the same date in 2009, marking the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle's birth.

An information bulletin about the year said the Church in Turkey is preparing "with spirit and a special determination they derive from feeling 'one' with the apostle born in Tarsus."

According to Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar of Anatolia, Turkey, "St. Paul can be considered the apostle of Christian identity, in an era like today when any type of religion can be embraced, in a moment in which the many paths toward God are ranked on the same level."

The Turkish episcopal conference, formed by seven bishops, three of the Latin rite, two Armenians, one Syrian Catholic and one Chaldean, is considering the program for the celebrations.

The bishops already planned a letter to the faithful of the various rites as well as a pilgrimage to Rome.

The conference has established contact with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and with the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Gregorian metropolitan archbishops, in order to organize common ecumenical initiatives dedicated to St. Paul, as Benedict XVI has suggested.

"The bimillennium will serve also to call the attention of the Church to the Christian minority communities in Turkey, making them aware of the situation," added Bishop Padovese.

One of the first goals for Catholics is to obtain permission from the Turkish authorities in Tarsus to make a permanent place for Christian worship to accommodate the pilgrims who will arrive from around the world.

Today, there is only one church-museum, and it lacks a cross. To use the building for liturgy, previous permission must be obtained and payment must be given to the civil authorities.

"I asked Prime Minister Erdogan that access to the building, the only Christian place in the city which has not been transformed into a mosque, may be permitted not only to Catholics, but also to all Christians; or that the Christians might be able to acquire land to build a church," Bishop Padovese said. "In Tarsus the museum-church is not needed, but a church where faithful and pilgrims can feel at home and pray."

"The authorities of Tarsus," he added, "have mixed sentiments: They are aware of the importance of the city for Christians; they are proud to be fellow citizens with a first-rate person. But at the same time, they show perplexity and discomfort when it comes to handling a situation implying religious tourism with special demands."