The Pope breaks the silence: “I think of Hagia Sophia becoming a mosque and I am very sorry”


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“I think about Hagia Sophia, and I am very sorry. ” Few but highly anticipated words, pronounced off the cuff by Pope francesco at the end ofAngelus, who have finally broken the silence of the Holy See on the reconversion of Santa Sofia, a Istanbul, gives Museum in mosque. A decision strongly desired by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced that the building will be reopened on Islamic worship from the prayer of Friday 24 July. Immediate was the reaction of numerous and authoritative voices of the Christian world to which was added that of Bergoglio. According to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, Erdogan’s decision “will push millions of Christians around the world against Islam”. By virtue of its sacredness, Hagia Sophia, added the Patriarch, is a center of life “in which East and West embrace” and its conversion into a place of Islamic worship “will be the cause of break between these two worlds “. In the 21st century it is “absurd and harmful that Hagia Sophia, from a place that now allows the two peoples to meet and admire its greatness, may again become a reason for contraposition and clash ”.

Position in perfect harmony with the Russian orthodox church, led by Moscow Patriarch Kirill, whom he welcomed with “Great pain and sorrow” the government’s turn decision. Metropolitan Hilarion, president of the Patriarchate’s Department for External Relations, called it “a hard blow for world orthodoxy “. While the spokesman Vladimir Legoida he said that “the concern of millions of Christians has not been heeded”. For the archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of external relations, “this is an event that could have serious consequences for the whole human civilization “. Harsh words that make it clear how serious they can be impact of this decision in relations between Christians, in particular Catholics e Orthodox, e Muslims.

Dedicated to Sophia, the wisdom of God, from 537 to 1453 the building was first Greek Catholic and then Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the exception of a short period, between 1204 and 1261, when it was transformed by the crusaders in catholic cathedral Roman rite under the Latin Empire of Constantinople. It then became Ottoman mosque on 29 May 1453 and remained so until 1931. Three years later it was transformed into Museum and so it has been until today when the Turkish Council of State gave the green light to the conversion of Saint Sophia into a mosque. The highest administrative court in the country has, in fact, canceled the decree from 1934 of the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, accepting the request of a small local Islamist group. An Erdogan decree, arrived immediately after the decision of the Council of State, establishes the transfer of the management of the Byzantine site from the ministry of culture a presidency of religious affairs, effectively converting it to the Hagia Sophia mosque.

For its part, the Turkish president responded to the protests, especially from the Christian world, invoking the “National sovereignty” and ensuring that the gates of Hagia Sophia will continue to be open to all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as is the case with all mosques: “Every criticism is a attack to our independence. ” After his decision, numerous Muslims came to Saint Sophia shouting: “Allah is great”. Me too’UnescoHowever, he did not approve Erdogan’s choice, underlining that in this way the “exceptional universal value” of the site, “powerful symbol of dialogue”, changes. “A country – said the agency Him-her-it – must ensure that no modification undermines the extraordinary universal value of a site on its territory that is on the list. Any changes must be notified by the country to UNESCO and verified by the World Heritage Committee. ”

A story that further increases the gap between Erdogan and Pope Francis who visited the Santa Sofia museum in 2014 on the occasion of his trip to Turkey. Already on that occasion, Bergoglio had not at all appreciated the choice of the Turkish president to receive him in his luxurious residence, to Ankara, inaugurated just two months before the Pope’s visit: more than a thousand rooms with a total area of ​​over 350 thousand square meters and a mosque that can hold 5 thousand faithful. A palace much larger than the White House, of the Kremlin and of Buckingham Palace. What irritated the Pope was that Erdgon wanted him to be the first international personality to cross the threshold of the residence.

Just in that place, Francesco had affirmed that “it is necessary to oppose fanaticism et al fundamentalism, all irrational phobias that encourage misunderstandings and discrimination, the solidarity of all believers, who have respect for human life as pillars, of religious freedom, which is freedom of worship and freedom to live according to religious ethics, the effort to guarantee everyone the necessary for a dignified life, and the care of the natural environment “. And he added: “It is essential that Muslim, Jewish and Christian citizens, both in the provisions of the law and in their effective implementation, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties. They will thus more easily recognize themselves as brothers and companions on the road, increasingly removing misunderstandings and favoring cooperation and the agreement “. After that visit, relations between the two leaders worsened especially when the Pope repeatedly denounced the “Armenian genocide”. In Turkey, in fact, the use of this expression to define the massacre of one and a half million Armenians that took place between 1915 and 1916 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire is punished with prison. From then on diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Turkey have always been very cold.

Twitter: @FrancescoGrana

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