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Riding the Pope's Coattails

Protestants hope to share in the benefits of Turkey trip.

A few days after Pope Benedict XVI left Turkey in December, a Christian news service published the hopeful headline, "Papal Visit Boosts Turkey's Beleaguered Catholics." Benedict's visit to the former capital of Christendom focused on strained relationships between Catholics and Orthodox Christians and between Catholics and Muslims. Media covered Muslim response to the pope in the wake of a speech in which he'd quoted a 15th-century Byzantine emperor critical of Islam.

But the public discussion asked few, if any, questions about what Benedict's visit might do for Turkey's small Protestant community. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said in an April report that Protestants are Turkey's most vulnerable minority group.

"Most Turks I know haven't ever met a Christian, unless they have a Greek or Armenian neighbor, and they're mostly all here in Istanbul," said Barbara Baker, Middle East bureau chief of Compass Direct News. "They have no context: To be a Turk is to be Muslim."

Baker and other Christians in Turkey expressed hope that positive reactions to the pope's trip will rub off on Protestants.

Already, the visit "has quelled and softened some reactions," said a Turkish evangelical, who feared reprisal and asked not to be identified. "But old historical and deep-rooted suspicions, prejudices, and attitudes don't disappear by one or two events—unless it has the power of the Holy Spirit!"

In recent years, Turkey's 3,000 Protestants have been the occasional targets of attacks motivated by religion. In early November, a Protestant church in Odemis was firebombed, according to Compass Direct. Days before the pope arrived, a criminal trial began against two Turkish Protestants charged with "insulting Turkishness" and encouraging ...

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Riding the Pope's Coattails
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February 2007

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