July 14, 2020

WASHINGTON – During its 1,500-year history, the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) in Istanbul has been both a church and mosque. A museum for the last 84 years, it has served as a symbol of good will and coexistence between the Christian and Muslim communities. Last week, the President of Turkey announced his decision to overturn this policy and change its status. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, have joined Pope Francis and other leaders in expressing their regret over the decision of Turkey’s president.

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Bambera’s statement follows:

“We join 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. 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.

“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.”