Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I expressed a resounding no to the reopening of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia as a mosque. In fact he said that if it "must be returned to religious worship, that can only be for Christian worship."
Bartholomew's statement came on the eve of Sinaxis, the meeting of all the heads of Orthodox Churches, gathered at the initiative of the Phanar, and can be considered as a response to persistent rumours circulating in sectors in Turkish society close to the ruling AKP party.
The remarks were made during the homily the ecumenical patriarch addressed to a large group of students and visiting scholars at the Phanar. Such visits are part of a series of educational trips frequently organised by foreign and Turkish groups.
"With these trips and visits, you are given the opportunity to come into contact with the entire Christian tradition that has developed in these lands," Bartholomew said, which are "based on the Greek language and culture, and emphasise the importance of Christian ideas and life. This is why you should always enrich and deepen your research and knowledge. "
"Hagia Sophia, a place of reference for everyone, is evidence of the historic and lasting presence of Christian ideas in these lands," he added.
"Certainly, you have not missed persistent rumours circulating lately within certain sectors of Turkish society to reopen Hagia Sophia as a mosque," the ecumenical patriarch noted.
"We shall oppose it, and all Christians, be they Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, shall be with us," Bartholomew said.
"Hagia Sophia," he concluded, "was built to bear witness to the Christian faith and if it must be returned to religious worship, that can only be for Christian worship."