Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid the foundation stone on Saturday for the nation’s first new church building in nearly 100 years, saying it reflects the country’s religious diversity.
The building in Istanbul will house the Syrian Orthodox Christian community, which currently does not have its own building and is sharing space in a Catholic church. Syrian Orthodox Christians are paying for the new building, according to Agence France-Presse.
It is being called the first new church building in Turkey since the nation’s founding in 1923. Islam is the country’s majority religion.
“Our geographic location has been the center of religious, ethnic, cultural and racial diversity,” Erdogan said during a ceremony. “Our hearts and doors have always been open to the oppressed who come here from anywhere – from Spain, to the Caucasians from Eastern Europe, to Northern Africa.
“... While the terror groups in Iraq and Syria inflict all kinds of cruelty on these people, we have opened our hearts to them without discrimination.”
Mihael Tore, a Syrian Orthodox priest, told TRT World it was “a very happy day” for his community.
“The churches here don’t belong to us. We share them with our Catholic brothers,” Tore said. “But it isn’t enough, because we are a big group.”
Once the building is complete, Tore said, the Syrian Orthodox community will be part of what he calls a “mosaic” of religions in Istanbul. There are an estimated 17,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians.
Despite the new building, Turkey was No. 26 on Open Doors’ 2019 list of countries “where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus.” The list was part of Open Doors’ World Watch List report. Open Doors is a religious liberty watchdog.
Turkey is the country where American pastor Andrew Brunson was imprisoned.
“Over the last year, the situation in Turkey has deteriorated significantly for Christians as President Erdogan’s powers grow,” the report said. “Churches there try to maintain a low profile, especially after the two-year case of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson who was unjustly jailed there and released in late 2018. Religious nationalism continues to grow to new heights.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Screenshot from TRT World
Video courtesy: TRT World
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.