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Pope’s Visit Offers Hope To Turkey’s Christians
Suzan Fraser Canadian Press

For the full story, go to ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – A Christian place of worship stands next to a false limb shop, on the ground floor of a dreary, four-storey apartment block in a run-down area of the capital. Kitchen chairs act as pews along the makeshift nave, and iron bars line the windows.

The 100-member Protestant congregation of the Ankara Kurtulus Church uses the rented space in the residential building because authorities have not responded to their request for land and a permit to build a proper church.

When Roman Catholic Pope Benedict visits mostly Muslim Turkey next week, he’ll try to ease anger over his recent remarks linking Islam and violence. But he is also expected to press Turkey, which hopes to join the European Union, for improved rights for its tiny Christian community. That minority, at times forced to worship in so-called “apartment churches,” has faced prejudice, discrimination and even assault.

“The Pope will discuss the rights of the religious minority” with Turkish officials, said Msgr. Luigi Padovese, the Pope’s vicar in Anatolia. “In a secular country, people must have the right to believe in whatever faith they choose to believe.”

The pastor of Ankara’s Kurtulus Church, Rev. Ihsan Ozbek, said the Pope’s visit offers hope for all Christians.

“It is a good opportunity to establish dialogue,” Ozbek said. “We face serious problems. Turkish citizens who converted to Christianity, especially, face serious discrimination and violence.”

Some 99 per cent of Turkey’s 70 million people are Muslim. Turkey also has some 20,000 Roman Catholics, 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, around 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians, an estimated 3,500 Protestants – mostly converts from Islam – and 23,000 Jews.