Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Orthodox patriarchs are meeting tomorrow in Istanbul, in the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to celebrate the 2,000 years of Saint Paul’s birth. With the announcement that Aleksij II, Patriarch of Moscow will attend, the top leaders of Christian Orthodoxy will thus come together for the first time in many years. They include in addition to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, Theodoros II of Alexandria (Egypt), Ignatius IV of Antioch (Syria) and Theophilus III of Jerusalem (Israel). The two-day summit includes meetings and a joint celebration.
Meanwhile Cologne's mayor, Fritz Schramm, wrote a letter to Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remind him of his commitment in favour of a shrine dedicated to Saint Paul in the Apostle’s birthplace.
In his letter Mr Schramm told Premier Erdogan that he had said he would “actively support” the creation of a pilgrimage centre in Saint Paul's birthplace.
For the mayor Erdogan's personal support would be a sign of “religious tolerance” recalling that as mayor he is in favour of plans to build a mosque in Cologne.
“I would be very pleased if Turkey sent a similar message,” he wrote.
Currently there are no churches or Christians in Tarsus. In 1884 an Italian capuchin, Fr Giuseppe da Genova, opened a church in the city which was closed between the two world wars for lack of staff and Christians.
At present three Italian nuns, Daughters of the Church, represent the only Christian presence in the city, living in a small rented flat.
Local authorities never the less allow pilgrims to worship in a recently restored church-cum-museum (see photo) which is open to the public.