German president attends mass at Turkey church
German President Christian Wulff attended mass at a church in southern Turkey Thursday, urging the mainly Muslim nation to guarantee the religious freedoms of its Christian minority.
Two German priests led the service in the 19th-century church in Tarsus, named after Saint Paul who was born in the city, then part of the Roman Empire, after Turkish officials gave permission for the ceremony in the edifice, currently listed as a museum.
"I think it would be wonderful if everybody can celebrate mass without asking for authorisation first," Wulff, the first German president to visit Turkey in a decade, told reporters after the service.
Representatives of Turkey's Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Syriac minorities also attended the mass.
Wulff expressed hope that Turkey would soon move to meet demands by its Christian communities for improvements concerning their legal status and the education of clergy.
"We are going in the right direction but we are not there yet," he said, stressing that Turkey's Christians should have the same rights that Muslims enjoy in Germany.
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has often urged Ankara to improve the rights of its non-Muslim communities, mainly Orthodox Greeks, Armenians and Jews, who complain mostly of restrictions on property rights and theological education.
Several attacks on Christians, including the murders of a German missionary in 2007 and the head of Turkey's Roman Catholic Church in June, have fanned fears that hostility against non-Muslims is on the rise in Turkey.
Wulff, who met with Turkish leaders in Ankara Tuesday, was to travel on to Istanbul to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and lay the foundation of a Turkish-German university before wrapping up his four-day visit Friday.
The German president travelled to Turkey amid a heated debate in his country on whether efforts to integrate millions of Muslim immigrants, many of them Turks, had failed.
© 2010 AFP