Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pope Pushes for Christian Freedom In Muslims Nations

By PELIN TURGUT/ISTANBUL

The Pope's Push to Protect Minority Christians in the Muslim World
Benedict XVI wants to help restore Istanbul as the global center of Orthodox Christianity. But the Turkish authorities worry what that could mean for their country's secular identity

Istanbul's Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, a complex of 17th century buildings off the shores of the Golden Horn, may be spiritual home to some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, but daily mass here is a decidedly lonesome affair. Only a handful of worshippers, all visiting tourists, fill the ancient oak pews of the Church of St George. The priests, robed in black, outnumber the faithful.

Leading the ceremony, Patriarch Bartolomew I is in the strange position of a shepherd without a flock. In the decades since Turkey's independence in 1923, his Greek Orthodox community has dwindled from around 150,000 to 1,500 people, most of them elderly. And his role as spiritual head to Orthodox Christians worldwide has been curtailed, critics say, by Turkish restrictions.

Yet, Istanbul is where Pope Benedict XVI chose to make his first visit to the head of a church. He was driven, observers say, by a desire to further the healing process begun in 1964 between the churches of east and west, and, more controversially, to highlight concerns over Christian minorities in the Muslim world...

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