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Germany

Cologne Mayor Presses Turkish Premier to Back Christian Shrine

The mayor of Cologne, who is a proponent of a disputed mosque in the west German city, has asked Prime Minister Erdogan to similarly support construction of a shrine for Saint Paul in Tarsus.

Collage of a mosque minaret and church steeple

The mayor of Cologne says Turkey's support for the shrine would be a sign of "religious tolerance"

Fritz Schramma, the mayor of the western German city of Cologne where a massive Gothic cathedral dominates the skyline, has thrown his weight behind controversial plans to build one of Europe's biggest mosques in his back yard. Now he wants the prime minister of Turkey to return the goodwill.

The mayor of Cologne, Fritz Schramma

Schramma wants Erdogan to return a goodwill gesture

Schramma sent a letter to Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week reminding the prime minister of a promise to support building a Turkish shrine in Tarsus dedicated to the Christian Saint Peter.

Erdogan promised to support the project when he visited Cologne in February, AFP news agency reported.

Tarsus a pilgrimage destination

Tarsus, the birth city of the apostle Paul, is a pilgrimage destination for devout Roman Catholics. In September, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the influential Archbishop of Cologne, led a delegation of 10 German bishops to Turkey. Meisner called for a center for pilgrims to be built in Tarsus.

Now, it's time for Erdogan to support the project, Mayor Schramma said in a letter to Erdogan made public this week.

"You said you would actively support the creation of a pilgrimage center as soon as the Church approached you with this request," Schramma wrote, underlining that Erdogan's backing would be "invaluable" to the cause.

It's unclear whether Erdogan has responded to the letter.

Calls for religious tolerance

Architekt Paul Boehm holds a model of the planned Cologne mosque

Cologne's mosque will be one of Europe's largest

Schramma said Erdogan's active support would be a sign of "religious tolerance" and pointed out that he has strongly backed plans to build a highly controversial mosque in Cologne.

"That is why I would be very pleased if Turkey sent a similar message and if you as prime minister would spearhead this movement," he said.

The apostle Paul hailed from a Jewish family in Tarsus in what is now Turkey. According to the Bible, he converted to Christianity after having persecuted some of its followers. In July, Pope Benedict XVI opened the year of Saint Paul to commemorate 2,000 years since his birth.

Mosque plans move forward despite opposition

Thousands demonstrated in Cologne last month against the far-right anti-Islamification congress

Thousands demonstrated in Cologne last month against the far-right "anti-Islamification" congress

Plans for building a mosque in Cologne, where 12 percent of the population is Muslim, were approved in August after Germany's main Muslim group agreed to shorten the minarets.

Far-right groups have seized on the project as proof of what they see as a creeping influence of Islamism in Germany and Europe.

Extremists held an "anti-Islamification" conference in Cologne last month which sparked a counter protest attended by 40,000 people. Mayor Schramma has called for a peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany.

The Muslim minority in Germany numbers about 3.5 million, most of them Turkish or of Turkish origin.

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