VATICAN INSIDER: SOME TRIVIA AND FUN STORIES FROM THE VATICAN (PART II) – UNESCO “REGRETS” TURKISH DECISION ON HAGIA SOPHIA, A WORLD HERITAGE SITE – JULY 24, FEAST OF BELOVED LEBANESE SAINT CHARBEL MAKHLOUF

Click here for English edition of weekly L’Osservatore Romano: https://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/pdfreader.html/ing/2020/07/ING_2020_030_2407.pdf.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NewsletterOR-EN

VATICAN INSIDER: SOME TRIVIA AND FUN STORIES FROM THE VATICAN (PART II)

Wherever you are as you listen to Vatican Insider this weekend, if you’ve decided to spend a brief moment with me, I think I have a fun offering for you in what is normally the interview segment.

I’ve called this Special “Inquiring Minds Want To Know” because I’m going to bring you some trivia – some little known, and often unusual facts about the Vatican, Popes or the Church. Join me for Part II as I look at who is the patron saint of television, the story of the statue of St. Peter in the basilica named for him and why Popes wear white. I’ll also look at who made one of the most visited nativity scenes in Rome and lastly, will tell you which has the biggest dome – St. Peter’s Basilica or the U.S. capitol?

Remember these stories might be a bit of trivia but they are not trivial!

UNESCO “REGRETS” TURKISH DECISION ON HAGIA SOPHIA, A WORLD HERITAGE SITE

There could be an interesting twist in Turkey’s July 10 decision to turn the once Christian basilica-then mosque-then museum of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which later became a UNESCO world heritage site. It was Turkey’s current president Erdogan who announce the recent change on July 10. Reaction against the change poured in, not only from many Turks but from around the world and one of the strongest voices was that of UNECSO.

Two things in particular struck me and I have contacted UNESCO but do not have an answer as I write:

1. “This decision announced today raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property’s universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories.”

2. “UNESCO calls upon the Turkish authorities to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session.”

Both of these imply some possible change in the monetary aspect of being a World Heritage site, such as monies earmarked for restoration, etc.

Hagia Sophia re-opened today for Muslim prayer. Today’s date was important as July 24, 1923 marks the date that Allied powers and Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne that ended the Ottoman Empire and signaled the start of the Republic of Turkey. An estimated 7,000 police closed off and policed a large portion of Istanbul adjacent to Hagia Sophia. Those who could not get inside brought their own prayer rugs and prayed outside in the adjacent garden area. An estimated 1,000 faithful prayed inside, including President Erdogan.

Following is the complete statement from the UNESCO website:

Hagia Sophia: UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, and calls for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved.

Paris, Friday 10 July – The Director-General of UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, to change the status of Hagia Sophia. This evening, she shared her serious concerns with the Ambassador of Turkey to UNESCO.

Hagia Sophia is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a property inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. “Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue,” said Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

This decision announced today raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property’s universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of any such modifications, which, if necessary, are then examined by the World Heritage Committee.

UNESCO also recalls that the effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders concerned by the property is necessary to preserve this heritage and highlight its uniqueness and significance. The purpose of this requirement is to protect and transmit the Outstanding Universal Value of heritage, and it is inherent to the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.

These concerns were shared with the Republic of Turkey in several letters, and again yesterday evening with the representative of the Turkish Delegation to UNESCO. It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior notice. UNESCO calls upon the Turkish authorities to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session.

“It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management,” stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention. (https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-statement-hagia-sophia-istanbul)

JULY 24, FEAST OF BELOVED LEBANESE SAINT CHARBEL MAKHLOUF

On one of my visits to Lebanon, a very good friend took me to Saint Maroun Monastery in Annaya, the shrine of St. Charbel, perhaps the most beloved of Lebanon’s saints, beloved by both Christians and Muslims. We spent an afternoon and early evening exploring the Monastery of St. Maroun, the hermitage and small museum and also attended Mass in a church built in 1840. Our final moments were at the tomb of the saint that, since 1952, has been in a cave-like structure.

Thousands and thousands of medically-verified miraculous healings have been attributed to St. Charbel’s intercession. For the past 70 years, since the healings have been recorded, more than 29,00 such cases have been archived.

Charbel, a Catholic Maronite monk and priest renown for his holiness, lived from May 8, 1828 to December 24, 1898. for several decades after his death, his body was incorrupt. Though his body is no longer incorrupt, his tomb is one of several in the world that has oil exuding from it, said to have miraculous healing as attested to by many witnesses.

I have a small bottle of that oil – still unopened – from that visit.

Here are some photos I took on that afternoon visit. The shrine is well above sea level and it was cold as we were on our mini pilgrimage.

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USCCB DAY OF MOURNING FOR HAGIA SOPHIA – VIOLENCE AGAINST CATHOLIC SITES: US BISHOPS URGE LOVE IN RESPONSE TO HATRED

Two stories today from and about the USCCB – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

USCCB DAY OF MOURNING FOR HAGIA SOPHIA

I shared this article earlier today on Facebook and on my Twitter account. I feel it is important, especially in view of Turkey’s invitation to Pope Francis to visit Hagia Sophia, the former basilica and then museum now turned into a mosque. The Vatican has not issued any statement so far and has not responded to media requests for clarification about that invitation. To read the article, “US Catholic Bishops Declare ‘Day of Mourning’ Over Hagia Sophia Becoming Mosque,” click here: https://www.newsmax.com/us/Catholic-bishops-Hagia-Sophia-Turkey-mosque/2020/07/22/id/978466/

VIOLENCE AGAINST CATHOLIC SITES: US BISHOPS URGE LOVE IN RESPONSE TO HATRED

The Bishops of the United States respond to reports of increasing incidents of church vandalism and fires, and urge understanding and love in response to confusion and hatred.

By Vatican News

The Bishops’ Conference of the United States, the USCCB, has issued a statement in response to numerous attacks against Catholic churches, statues, and other religious symbols.

“Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict,” reads the statement from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.

The two archbishops, chairmen respectively of the USCCB’s Committee on Religious Liberty and the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, point to numerous acts of violence in recent weeks, including an attack in Florida when a driver rammed his car into a church and attempted to set the building on fire. Numerous statues of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin have also “been defaced or even beheaded” in recent weeks, they note.

The historic mission church of San Gabriel in Los Angeles was destroyed by fire earlier in July, and the cause is still unknown.

“Whether those who committed these acts were troubled individuals crying out for help or agents of hate seeking to intimidate, the attacks are signs of a society in need of healing,” the archbishops wrote.

Acknowledging that the motives behind the incidents remain unclear, they said they are praying for those responsible, adding, “we remain vigilant against more of it.”

In their statement, the two prelates insist, “the path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and His Holy Mother.” They encourage contemplation of “images of these examples of God’s love,” rather than destruction of them.

“Following the example of Our Lord,” say Archbishops Wenski and Coakley, “we respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love.”

TURKISH PRESIDENT HAS REPORTEDLY INVITED POPE FRANCIS TO HAGIA SOPHIA – ST. FRANCIS AND A MONASTERY IN VENICE

July 21 is always a day I celebrate with joy as it was the date I was baptized! I could not know at the age of three weeks that a whole new life was starting for me but, as I grew and learned about the faith and received my First Communion and so much more, I realized it was the greatest treasure of my life.

TURKISH PRESIDENT HAS REPORTEDLY INVITED POPE FRANCIS TO HAGIA SOPHIA

A report in the Greek City Times, citing the Anadolou Agency, says that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited Pope Francis to visit Hagia Sophia. The article was entitled “Turkey Invites Pope Francis to Hagia Sophia.”

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis to visit Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom),” the report started. “According to Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for the Turkish presidency, Turkey has invited everyone to the mosque, including Pope Francis.” https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/07/21/turkey-invites-pope-francis-to-hagia-sophia/

If you recall, on July 12, the second Sunday in July that traditionally marks the International Day of the Sea, at the Angelus Pope Francis mentioned this after the Marian prayer, extending “an affectionate greeting to all those who work at sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country.”

Then, speaking somewhat hesitatingly in obviously pained extemporaneous remarks, he said: “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.” He did not mention Turkey’s president by name or use the word ‘mosque’ but it was President Erdogan who, on July10 announced the decision to turn the museum commonly known as Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago – in 537 – as a basilica by the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Divine Wisdom – thus the name Hagia Sophia. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was converted into a mosque and the city was renamed Istanbul. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which later became a UNESCO world heritage site.

Reactions around the world to the July 10 decision ranged from disappointment to condemnation, and people immediately looked to the Vatican for a statement. Negative reaction poured in from Orthodox leaders, the European Union and the World Council of Churches, to name a few.

The WCC told Turkey’s president in a letter of “the grief and dismay of the World Council of Churches and of its 350 member churches in more than 110 countries, representing more than half a billion Christians around the world at the step you have just taken. By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division.”

And then Sunday, July 12, we heard Pope Francis say with sadness, “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”

FRANCIS AND A MONASTERY IN VENICE

I now know what new place I will visit the next time I’m in Venice!   What a great story this is about St. Francis and a beautiful Venetian island! To whet your appetite….

 “When Francis returned to Venice, after a months-long sea journey aboard a cargo ship, he was at the height of his fame as a preacher. Thousands were inspired by his invitation to give up worldly possessions and live a life of penance, brotherly love, and peace.  (photo Aleteia)

Upon his arrival in Venice, hundreds of believers were gathered to meet him. But Francis realized he first needed a moment of quiet, reflection and prayer before returning to his worldly mission. Thanks to a small rowboat, he made his way to a tiny island inside Venice’s Lagoon, located between the islands of Burano and Sant’Eramo, now known as “St. Francis of the Desert.”

To read more and be inspired: https://aleteia.org/2020/04/23/the-island-where-saint-francis-took-refuge-to-reflect/?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en

 

 

TURKEY TURNS ONCE CHRISTIAN BASILICA INTO MOSQUE – POPE BENEDICT MAKES HISTORY BY VISITING BLUE MOSQUE

TURKEY TURNS ONCE CHRISTIAN BASILICA INTO MOSQUE

Yesterday, the second Sunday in July, the International Day of the Sea is traditionally observed, and Pope Francis mentioned this after the Marian prayer, extending “an affectionate greeting to all those who work at sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country.”

Then, speaking somewhat hesitatingly in obviously pained extemporaneous remarks, he said: “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”

Ten little words: “I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”

The Pope did not mention Turkey’s president by name or use the word ‘mosque’ but he was referring to President Erdogan’s announcement on July10 that the museum commonly known as Hagia Sophia would turn back into a mosque, following a ruling from the Council of State.

Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago – in 537 – as a basilica by the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Divine Wisdom – thus Hagia Sophia, its name in Greek. It is Aya Sofia to Turks.

After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was turned into a mosque and Constantinople became Istanbul. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which later became a UNESCO world heritage site.

Hagia Sophia is set to re-open to Muslims for prayer on July 24.

I have visited this magnificent church – I can’t help but call it a church! – on several occasions, the first being in 1996 as a member of the Holy See delegation to a UN conference on Housing in Istanbul.   We also visited the celebrated Blue Mosque, revered by Turks, most of whom are Muslim. (See my piece below about Pope Benedict’s visit to Istanbul and to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in 2006)

Reactions around the world to Friday’s decision ranged from disappointment to condemnation, and people immediately looked to the Vatican for a statement. So far all that has been heard from the Vatican were Pope Francis’ heartfelt ten words at the Angelus.

Negative reaction poured in from Orthodox leaders, the European Union and the World Council of Churches, to name a few.   According to Peter Anderson who specializes in news about the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople lamented the decision, saying Hagia Sophia belongs not only to those who own it at the moment but to all humanity. “The Turkish people have the great responsibility and honour to make the universality of this wonderful monument shine. … (as a museum it serves as a) “symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

Anderson noted that Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, further warned conversation would “push millions of Christians around the world against Islam.”

For its part, UNESCO said that the building is inscribed on its world heritage list as a museum, which binds the Turkish state to ensure that “no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property.”

In Athens, reports Anderson in a summary of worldwide reaction to Erdogan’s decision, the Greek Prime Minister said the conversion would be an affront to its ecumenical character. “Furthermore, it is a decision that offends all those who recognize Hagia Sophia as an indispensable part of world cultural heritage. …This decision clearly affects not only Turkey’s relations with Greece, but also its relations with the European Union, UNESCO, and the world community as a whole. It is a truly regretful development that the Turkish leadership, after working for the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005, has now taken the decision to reverse course.”

The WCC told Turkey’s president in a letter of “the grief and dismay of the World Council of Churches and of its 350 member churches in more than 110 countries, representing more than half a billion Christians around the world at the step you have just taken. By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division.”

POPE BENEDICT MAKES HISTORY BY VISITING BLUE MOSQUE

In 2006, I spent six days in Turkey to cover Pope Benedict’s brief visit November 28 to December 1.
Benedict spoke of his trip, that included stops in Ankara, Izmir, Ephesus and Istanbul at the Angelus the Sunday before his Wednesday departure, saying, “It is with great emotion that I await my meeting with the small Catholic community, always present in my heart, and to fraternally join the Orthodox Church on the occasion of the feast of the Apostle St. Andrew.”

He said he was “walking in the footsteps of my venerated predecessors Pope Paul VI and John Paul II,” who visited Turkey in 1967 and 1979 respectively. He invoked the “heavenly protection of Blessed John XXIII, who for 10 years was apostolic delegate in Turkey and felt great esteem and affection for that nation.”

“I ask you all,” Benedict told the faithful, “to accompany me in prayer so that this pilgrimage bears the fruit that God wishes.”

Thursday, November 30, the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was the busiest day on the Pope’s schedule for his visit to Turkey. It included a liturgy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the signing of a Joint Declaration by Pope and Patriarch, a visit to Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) Museum, a history-making visit to the famed Blue Mosque, and meetings with other Christian leaders and the chief rabbi of Turkey.

I spent some time today re-reading my posts of that papal visit. I was actually riveted by those memories, and one of the funniest columns I’ve ever written was probably the one about the driver I hired to take me from the Izmir airport to Ephesus for the papal Mass at Mary’s House!

I took these photos at Mary’s House in Ephesus during Benedict’s Mass:

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On a serious side, here is what I wrote about Pope Benedict’s visit to the Blue Mosque:

In what was considered one of the most sensitive parts of his trip, Pope Benedict Thursday afternoon (Nov 30) visited both the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, so called for the blue tiles that decorate its domed ceiling.

Though it never came to pass, many Muslims feared the Pope would make some kind of religious gesture inside Aya Sofya Museum, also known as Hagia Sophia or “Holy Wisdom,” once an Orthodox church that was converted into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks, and into a museum in 1934. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest buildings of the world, its conquest by the Ottomans at the fall of Constantinople is considered one of the great tragedies of Christianity by the Greek Orthodox faithful. For Muslims it is still a sacred site.

Then, in one of the most awaited moments of his trip, and in the holiest site for Turkish Muslims, the Pope visited the Blue Mosque for a half hour, a time he obviously enjoyed, asking questions and making comments as he did at Aya Sofya.

He removed his shoes as is customary in a mosque and was guided throughout by the Grand Mufti and imam who at one point asked Benedict to join in a moment of meditation. Both remained in solemn silence for a brief period, with the Pope meditating for a full two minutes. The Pope told the imam “this visit will help us together to find the ways, the paths to peace for the good of mankind.”

I took these pictures from the TV at the media center – only a handful of journalists were allowed in the mosque:

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At one point the imam showed the Pope a Muslim prayer book and noted that all prayers begin with the word Allah, the name for God. The Pope then put his hand on the book and said “let us pray for brotherhood and all mankind.” There was an exchange of gifts at the end and when the imam handed the Pope a framed ceramic tile depicting a dove, the Pope said, “this picture is a message of fraternity as a remembrance of a visit I will surely never forget.”

PS. For Turks, this was the highest moment, the most important and memorable of Benedict’s four-day visit to their country.