The United States Catholic bishops have joined the Greek Orthodox Church in proclaiming July 24 a day of “mourning and manifest grief” over Turkey’s decision to recommission the basilica of Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
On Tuesday, the U.S. bishops (USCCB) tweeted out an announcement of the Day of Mourning, embracing an invitation by the Greek Orthodox Church in America issued to “all Christians and people of goodwill to join in a Day of Mourning on July 24 for Hagia Sophia.”
The invitation asks that “every Church toll its bells, every flag be raised to half-mast and that the Akathist Hymn is chanted or the rosary recited in the evening,” the USCCB noted.
Built as a Christian church under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, but was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople — the city that is modern-day Istanbul. In 1934, the Turkish Council of Ministers, under secular Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, turned the structure into a museum.
“The Archdiocese of America has declared a day of mourning on Friday, July 24, the first day of Muslim prayers at the Byzantine cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul following its recent reconversion into a mosque,” the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church states on its website.
“Knowing that on Friday, July 24th, there will be an ‘inauguration’ of this program of cultural and spiritual misappropriation and a violation of all standards of religious harmony and mutual respect,” it continues, “we call upon all the beloved faithful of our Holy Archdiocese to observe this day as a day of mourning and of manifest grief.”
The U.S. bishops had already registered their dismay over the decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to recommission Hagia Sophia as a mosque, covering over the sacred Christian imagery that adorns the church.
In a joint statement last week, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the USCCB and Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said they joined “Pope Francis and our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in expressing deep sadness over the decree by Turkey’s president to open Hagia Sophia as a mosque.”
“Since its foundation as a Christian cathedral in 537, Hagia Sophia has been one of the world’s great artistic and spiritual treasures,” the bishops noted. “For many years now, this beautiful and cherished site has served as a museum where people of all faiths can come to experience the sublime presence of God.”
“It has also stood as a sign of good will and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims and an expression of humanity’s longings for unity and love,” they declared.
“On behalf of our brother bishops in the United States, we urge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reverse this unnecessary and painful decision and restore Hagia Sophia as a place of prayer and reflection for all peoples,” they said.