.- In advance of Pope Benedict XVI’s late November trip to Turkey and in the midst of continuing talks regarding Turkey’s possible entry into the European Union, international aid agency, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is asking for “religious liberty of European standard,” in Turkey.
In a press release today, ACN said “religious liberty of European standard” includes the legal recognition of Christian Churches in Turkey, especially in the areas of property ownership and the right to form priests.
The Catholic Church has no right to build churches or other buildings in Turkey since a restrictive law was passed in 1923. And in addition to there being no seminary in the country for future priests, the residence permits for foreign priests depends on the popularly influenced goodwill of the authorities. ACN points out that the killing of Fr. Andrea Santoro, last February, testifies to the increasingly common attacks on priests, attacks which are both open and hidden.
The organization’s plea for religious liberty comes after a visit to ACN from Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Turkey. Bishop Padovese told ACN that the Pope’s upcoming visit to Turkey is being wrongly characterized as a direct attempt to convert Muslims. “The Pope is not coming to missionize, as the Turkish press claims, but to speak with Muslims, the Turkish government, and obviously with Catholics but especially with Orthodox Christians”
Padovese also stressed the importance of Benedict XVI’s address at Regensburg as an appeal for a dialogue among religions. The Bishop’s words underlined, in the opinion of ACN, the organization’s duty to stand-up for the religious rights of Christians in Turkey.
The Apostolic Vicariate in Anatolia serves half of the territory of Turkey, with officially only 5.000 Catholics. Today out of a population of 63.5 million, there are 200,000 Christians in the country. In 1914, ACN noted, the Turkish population was about 30% Christian.
To honour the Pope’s visit to Turkey, Aid to the Church in Need is preparing a Turkish edition of the “Little Catechism” of the Catholic Church. After being published as a book in 2004, the Children’s Bible in Turkish is now available on-line.