(Christian Today) – The first new Syriac church for nearly a century is to be built in Turkey.

St Mary’s will be the first new church for Turkey’s growing Syriac Orthodox Christian community since the republic was founded in 1922, the Turkish news website Agos reported.

The church, to be built in Yesilköy suburb, Istanbul, will seat 750 worshippers and will cater to a community of around 17,000 Syriac Christians living in and near the Bakırköy area, many of them refugees from the fighting led by Islamic State and other terror groups in the Middle East.

Plans for the church were announced earlier this year. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality gave planning permission for building work to begin a few days ago and the church design will be similar to that of some of the ancient churches in Mardin province, with some contemporary features.

Sait Susin, chair of the Syriac Virgin Mary Church Foundation, said he expected it would take about six months to complete. Land has been given to the foundation but the costs of the building work will be paid for by the foundation.

Christians in Turkey are proud of the country’s heritage, with the Apostles Paul and Timothy both having been born there. Many Christians were killed in the early 20th century in the Armenian genocide and Turkey is now more than 97 per cent Muslim.

Pope Francis made a significant visit to Turkey in November last year and prayed alongside a senior Islamic cleric at a Mosque in Istanbul.

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