ASIA/MIDDLE EAST - Churches and ecumenical bodies in the Middle East: the "reconversion" of Ayasofya is a sabotage of the new paths of brotherhood between Christians and Muslims

Monday, 13 July 2020 middle east   oriental churches   holy places   sectaniarism   geopolitics  

Istanbul (Agenzia Fides) - The decision of the current Turkish leadership to reconvert the monumental complex of Ayasofia in Istanbul as a mosque represents "an attack on religious freedom", also protected by international rules. This is what the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) underlines in a statement in which it firmly deplores the umpteenth change of use of the ancient Christian basilica sanctioned by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In its pronouncement, the MECC
also invokes a strong stance on this matter of the UN and the League of Arab States, and also suggests filing an appeal before the Turkish Supreme Court to enforce "the historical symbolism represented by the church of Santa Sophia". The most insidious figure of the whole affair - underlines the message signed by the Secretary General of MECC, Lebanese professor Souraya Bechealany - consists in the fact that the Turkish decision takes place in a historical moment marked by the attempt to increase the relations of peaceful and supportive coexistence between Christians and Muslims, also in light of the Document on Human Brotherhood for peace in the world signed in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019 by Pope Francis and sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of al Azhar. The move made by the Turkish leadership on Ayasofya - underlines the MECC statement - represents a serious blow to all Islamic-Christian dialogue initiatives launched in the last three decades, also as a response to the pitfalls of extremism and sectarian fanaticism.
The Chaldean Patriarchate also expresses "sadness and sorrow" for the fate of the monument which had become a symbol of the possible solidarity of coexistence between Christianity and Islam, at a time when it is convenient to face together conflicts of a religious nature and the global threat of the pandemic. "The Muslims of Istanbul", stresses a pronouncement of the Chaldean Patriarchate "do not need a new mosque in Istanbul, where there are already countless mosques". The leaders of the Chaldean Church, led by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, deplore the fact that Turkish President Erdogan did not take into the slightest consideration the fact that his choice would be welcomed with regret by millions of Christians around the world, also forgetting the fraternal welcome reserved by many Christians to Islamic immigrants who have come to Europe after difficult and dangerous journeys. The pronouncement of the Chaldean Church ends with an invocation addressed to Almighty God, so that he may free humanity from "extremism and the politicization of religions".
On Friday 10 July, in a speech addressed to the nation, President Erdogan announced that Ayasofya will be reopened for Islamic worship starting from the prayer of Friday 24 July, stressing that the conversion of the symbol of Istanbul into a mosque represents a "sovereign right" of Turkey. A few hours before Erdogan's speech, the text of the sentence was released, by which the Turkish Council of State had canceled the decree of 24 November 1934 of the then President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which had transformed the ancient Byzantine basilica of Hagia Sophia, which became a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks (1453). "I think of Santa Sophia, and I am very saddened", said Pope Francis, addressing the faithful present in St. Peter's Square after the Angelus prayer on Sunday 12 July. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 13/7/2020)

Mosaico della Madonna Platytera ("Colei che è più vasta dei Cieli), Ayasofya, Istanbul