Top Turkish religious official says St. Paul Church should be reopened
Following the historic mass earlier this month at the Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea region, Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali yesterday declared support for the first time for the reopening of a church dedicated to St. Paul. "We feel disturbed when we hear that minarets have been banned in Europe," said Bardakoglu, referring to a last year's controversial ban on new minarets in Switzerland. "We should be protecting freedom of religion for the various faiths on our soil. If we only approach religions from a security-based perspective, we won't be able to work this out." He called for the historic St. Paul Church in the southern Turkish city of Tarsus, Mersin, which currently serves as a museum, to be reopened as a church. "I believe it would be more suitable if the St. Paul Church in Tarsus serves as a church than its current role as a museum," he said. "Christians have asked for this. If a place is sacred for Christians and they want to hold religious ceremonies there, then there is no good reason for not allowing this." Bardakoglu added that when he visits Western countries, he is often challenged on why the church was turned into a museum. Bardakoglu said he was pleased with the mass at Sumela Monastery, saying that such ceremonies should never cause public concern, and that it signaled greater freedom of religion in Turkey. Orthodox Christians from Russia, Greece, Georgia and the United States poured into the Black Sea province of Trabzon on Aug. 15 for a historic mass at Sumela Monastery, open to worship for the first time in 88 years. The single-day service received special permission from the Turkish government and was watched by roughly 1,000 people live on large screens erected in the valley below the monastery, which was not large enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to take part in the mass.