International News by Andrew Halloway
The Turkish government’s decision to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque has disappointed churches across the world.
“A sign of exclusion and division”
A representative of the Russian Orthodox Church said: “The reaction of the Orthodox community was ignored. For the Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia is as important as St Peter’s Basilica in Rome for Catholics. The church was built in the sixth century and was devoted to Christ the Saviour. For us, it has been and will always remain the church devoted to Christ.”
The conversion of the UNESCO world heritage site is going ahead despite objections from the US, Russia, the UN, the EU, the Pope and the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide says the move risks increasing religious intolerance in the region. The Interim Secretary General of the World Council of Churches expressed “grief and dismay” and in a letter to Turkey’s President Erdogan stated that the decision was “a sign of exclusion and division”.
Churches Together in England was “saddened” by the mosque conversion as Hagia Sophia had long been “a living example of religious tolerance and respect”.
Turkey’s religious affairs authority intends to cover the Christian images in Hagia Sophia during Islamic prayers.