Pope Francis expressed sadness that the museum of Hagia Sophia, formerly a mosque and before that a Christian Cathedral, has been officially designated a mosque again. The decree turning the building from a mosque to a museum has been annulled. The court ruled that the building can only legally be a mosque as the deed (going back to Mehmet II) requires this purpose [MiddleEastMonitor].
““And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened,” he said, according to an unofficial translation provided by the Holy See Press Office.” [CNA]
The Greek term Hagia Sophia means holy wisdom. The building was Byzantine Christian Cathedral (537–1054), Greek Orthodox Cathedral (1054–1204), Roman Catholic Cathedral (1204–1261), Greek Orthodox Cathedral (1261–1453), Ottoman Mosque (1453–1935), Museum (1935–2020) according to Wikipedia. Thus, the building was a Christian place of worship for 916 years and a Muslim place of worship for 482 years, and a museum for 85 years.
I do not see why this would be an occasion for sadness. A museum is being turned into a place to worship God. Many Muslims love God and neighbor, and they worship God in the state of grace; they are on the path to Heaven. A secular place is being turned into a religious place. That is a step in the right direction.
Moreover, the building was converted into a mosque when the Greek Orthodox bishops agreed to sell the Cathedral to the Ottoman emperor, Sultan Mehmet II. The Sultan permitted Christians in the conquered city to worship God as they wished, and the churches remained open after the conquest.
“In 1453, with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople by the 19-year-old Sultan Mehmet II, it was turned into a mosque. After the conquest, explains Egyptian historian Dr Raghib Al-Serjani, the Sultan saw that the Christians sought refuge in the cathedral. He allowed them to practice their religious life normally. Citing several historical sources, the Sultan left all of the churches in the city untouched and performed his first prayer there outside Hagia Sophia before asking the bishops if he could buy the land and building. The bishops agreed, and accepted the Sultan’s offer; he paid from his personal wealth and gave orders that the building be turned into a mosque. The Christian authorities moved into another church.” [MiddleEastMonitor]
Perhaps at some point in the future, the building will become a Christian Cathedral again. We need not worry that a former Cathedral is being used to worship God in another religion. God loves all who love Him and who love their neighbors. So it is becoming a place to love God and neighbor.
What about the Islamic extremists? They are not in charge of the building.
Why can’t the building become a Christian Cathedral again? The vast majority of the residents of Turkey are Muslims. Only a small percentage are Christian. And Christians in many nations are slowly losing their religion, in one way or another. Many have become lukewarm and no longer practice devoutly. Some Catholics have decided to rebel against the Roman Pontiff. Many Christians live very secular lives, and they believe, first and foremost, whatever their culture teaches them. Before the eyes of God, Christians do not deserve to possess the Cathedral of Constantinople, Holy Wisdom. For they have not been faithful to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, nor have they behaved as holy and wise Christians ought to behave.
In all fairness, the Christians of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) are a small minority among the mainly Muslim residents. The city has a right to designate a secular building, a museum, for use in religious worship by such a large number and percentage of Muslims. They have a right to worship God according to their own conscience, and to have buildings for that purpose. And the Christians of the city, being relatively few in number and percentage, have much less need for another church.
Also, if the Christians and especially the Catholics of the world did better at imitating Christ, many more persons would have converted to the Faith, and we would not have this problem of churches or secular buildings becoming mosques.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.