«The thought goes to Istanbul, I think of Hagia Sophia. I am very, very grieved ». A few words added by hand to the speech prepared for the Angelus in St. Peter’s square and then Francesco makes a long, unusual, silent pause. The suffering of the Turkish government’s decision to turn the former Christian Byzantine cathedral dedicated to Divine Wisdom into a mosque, inaugurated in 537 under the Christian emperor Justinian of the capital, is palpable.
Today’s Pope Francis is the first official position taken by the Vatican and the Catholic Church after the announcement that Hagia Sophia, for a millennium the main basilica of Orthodox Christianity and for five centuries a mosque after the Turkish capture of Constantinople, it would have been brought back to Muslim worship by overturning the decision made by the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk back in 1934. In fact, in recent days many had been criticism from the Christian side, and not only that, to Erdogan’s decision. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew he said: “It is a choice that will push millions of Christians around the world against Islam. For its sacredness, Hagia Sophia is a center of life in which East and West embrace. His reconversion into a place of Islamic worship will cause a break between these two worlds. It is absurd and harmful that in the 21st century Hagia Sophia, from a place that now allows the two peoples to meet and admire its greatness, can once again become a reason for contrast and confrontation ». Also the Russian Orthodox Church, which through Patriarch Kirill had made a heartfelt appeal to avoid the transformation of Hagia Sophia, he accepted the decision with “great pain and sorrow”. Metropolitan Hilarion, president of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Relations, called it «A serious blow to world orthodoxy, the concern of millions of Christians has not been heeded». For Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of external relations, this is “an event that could have serious consequences for the entire human civilization”.
Also UNESCO expressed in a note “deep regret for the decision of Turkey, which changes the exceptional universal value of the site, a powerful symbol of dialogue ». The press release of the UN agency continues, which protects “world heritage” places all over the world: “Each country must make sure that no modification can undermine the extraordinary universal value of a site on our list that is located in its territory. Any changes must be notified by the country to UNESCO and verified by the World Heritage Committee». And even the Greek government has defined the decision of the Turkish court, which has ruled on the appeal of a small Islamic group, “a provocation to the civilized world”: “The nationalism shown by President Erdogan brings his country back six centuries,” said Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni in a statement..
© RESERVED REPRODUCTION