.- Pope Benedict XVI accepted the credentials of a new ambassador from Turkey to the Holy See on Thursday morning. The Pontiff took advantage of the occasion to make a plea to the Turkish government to give Catholics expanded rights in the country, which, according to a parish priest in Istanbul, can be quite limited.
"The Catholics in Turkey appreciate the freedom of worship that is guaranteed by the Constitution, and are pleased to be able to contribute to the well-being of their fellow citizens, especially through involvement in charitable activity and healthcare," said the Pontiff of the current climate within the Eurasian country.
But, the Holy Father informed Dr. Kenan Gürsoy, the new ambassador from Turkey, "the Catholic Church in Turkey is waiting for civil juridical recognition" that "would help her to enjoy full religious freedom and to make an even greater contribution to society."
To shed more light on the situation in Turkey, CNA spoke with a parish priest in Istanbul, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the situation.
Under current legislation, the pastor explained that "Within the church (building) we are free to do as we wish, but when we leave the church we are censured."
The priest added that Catholics are not free to build new structures for worship, and are limited to using the historic church buildings still standing from past years of greater religious freedom.
The priest observed that the government has turned many of these churches into museums. He referred specifically to the Cappadocia region, where hundreds of church-museums are located but in which open worship is prohibited.
"If the law is changed, we will be more at ease. Inşallah … God willing," the Turkish priest said.
In his address to the new ambassador, Pope Benedict praised certain initiatives the Republic of Turkey has taken "to make a significant contibution to the effort to bring peace and stability to the Middle East," since the country serves "as a bridge between Islam and the West." The Holy See, he said, is eager "to support further efforts to put an end to long-standing conflicts in the region."
Diplomatic relations between the two entities were first established by the late-Pope John XXIII nearly 50 years ago.