World Council of Churches urges Erdogan to reverse Hagia Sophia decision

Hagia Sophia

The World Council of Churches has called on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse his decision to restore the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. 

In a letter to Mr Erdogan, the Council, which represents more than 500 million Christians and counts 350 churches as members, said the move would sow division.

The letter from Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary, says the Council feels “grief and dismay.”

“By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division,” Sauca wrote.

He added that the decision “will inevitably create uncertainties, suspicions and mistrust, undermining all our efforts to bring people of different faiths together at the table of dialogue and co-operation…

“In the interests of promoting mutual understanding, respect, dialogue and co-operation, and avoiding cultivating old animosities and divisions, we urgently appeal to you to reconsider and reverse your decision.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis said he’s “pained” by Turkey’s decision to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

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Speaking at a service in the Vatican, the Roman Catholic leader added that his “thoughts go to Istanbul.”

The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has already condemned the move. Greece, home to many millions of Orthodox followers, called it an “open provocation to the civilised world.”

And the Church in Russia, home to the world’s largest Orthodox Christian community, immediately expressed regret that the Turkish court had not taken its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia’s complex history began in the year 537 when Byzantine emperor Justinian built the huge church overlooking the Golden Horn harbour

It remained in Byzantine hands for centuries apart from a brief moment in 1204 when Crusaders raided the city.

In 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II captured Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) and performed Friday prayers inside Hagia Sophia.

The Ottomans soon converted the building into a mosque, adding four minarets to the exterior and covering ornate Christian icons and gold mosaics with panels of Arabic religious calligraphy.

After centuries at the heart of the Muslim Ottoman empire, it was turned into a museum in 1934 in a drive to make Turkey more secular.

But on Friday a Turkish court deemed that decision illegal, paving the way for it to be restored as a mosque.

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