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Hagia Sophia declared a mosque hours after court ruling

July 10, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Jul 10, 2020 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has signed a decree converting Hagia Sophia, the former cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Istanbul, into a mosque.

The presidential decree was signed within hours of a court ruling Friday, which declared unlawful an 80-year old government decree which converted the building from a mosque into a museum.

Ayasofya Mosque, as it is known in Turkish, will now fall under the supervision of the government’s religious directorate.

The decree is the culmination of a long-held goal of Erdoğan, who has called for the building to be returned to the status of a mosque for years.

The court’s decision drew heavy criticism from the international community, as has the Turkish president’s stated aim of ending the building’s neutral usage.

The Greek culture minister, Lina Mendoni, released a statement condemning the decision, saying the court ruling “absolutely confirms that there is no independent justice” in Turkey, and that “the nationalism displayed by President Erdogan… takes his country back six centuries.”

Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has said that the building’s prior status as a museum made it “the symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

In a June 30 homily, Bartholomew said that Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, belongs “belongs not only to those who own it at the moment, but to all humanity.”

Hagia Sophia was founded in 537 under the Emperor Justinian. For a time it was the largest building in the world and the largest Christian church. It served as the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople before and after the Great Schism split Western and Eastern Christianity into the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

After the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. Under the Ottomans, architects added minarets and buttresses to preserve the building, but the mosaics showing Christian imagery were whitewashed and covered.

In 1934, under the leadership of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman empire, the mosque was turned into a museum.

The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum was considered a symbol of the Atatürk government’s commitment to building a secular liberal state. Mosaics were uncovered, including depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Justinian I, and the Byzantine Empress Zoë Porphyrogenita.

When the museum reopens for worship as a mosque, it is believed that the mosaics will have to be covered during Muslim prayers, as well as the seraph figures located in the high basilica dome. 

Hagia Sophia is one of Turkey’s most recognizable landmarks and its most visited site, drawing more than 3.7 million visitors a year.

Erdoğan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that “Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship doesn’t keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site.”


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Notre Dame Cathedral spire to be rebuilt as replica of pre-fire design

July 9, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- President Emmanuel Macron of France has announced that the Notre Dame Cathedral spire will be rebuilt as a replica of the one destroyed in the fire at the cathedral last year.

Macron’s government had previously initiated an architectural competition to submit a variety of suggestions for the restoration. Macron has also called for “an inventive reconstruction” of the cathedral with a more contemporary design.

The possibility of a new design for the spire of the historic building had been controversial. The designs proposed included a rooftop swimming pool and a greenhouse atop the 850-year-old cathedral.

Last year, the French Senate passed a bill mandating that Notre-Dame be rebuilt as it was before the fire.

Macron’s change of mind on the spire construction is due to a desire to finish the project quickly, the BBC reported. Paris is scheduled to host the Olympics in 2024, and choosing a new design for the spire would have delayed the construction.

Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.

A major fire broke out in Notre Dame cathedral on the evening of April 15, 2019. The roof and the spire were destroyed. Shortly after midnight April 16, firefighters announced that the cathedral’s main structure had been preserved from collapse.

The major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.

Originally built between the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the landmark cathedral in the French capital is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, receiving more than 12 million visitors each year.

Its original spire was constructed in the 13th century, but was replaced in the 19th century due to damage.

The cathedral was undergoing some restorative work at the time the fire broke out, though it is unknown if the fire originated in the area of the work.



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Survey finds 30% of German Catholics are considering leaving Church

July 9, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 08:15 am (CNA).- A survey released Thursday found that 30% of German Catholics are considering leaving the Church.

The poll, conducted by the research institute INSA Consulere for the Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost, reported that almost a third of respondents agreed with the statement “I am a member of the Church and can imagine leaving the Church soon.”

Researchers said July 9 that 54% of Catholics disagreed with the statement, 9% said they did not know, and 7% did not offer a response, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.

The survey follows the release of official figures last month which showed that a record number of Catholics formally left the Church in Germany in 2019. 

According to the statistics, 272,771 people exited the Catholic Church last year, a significant increase on the 2018 figure of 216,078.

Some of those formally departing the Catholic Church in Germany are seeking to avoid paying the country’s church tax. If an individual is registered as a Catholic, then 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The only way they can stop paying the tax is to make an official declaration renouncing their membership. They are then no longer allowed to receive the sacraments or a Catholic burial. 

Researchers also interviewed members of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a body representing 20 Protestant groups including Lutherans. They found that 26% of those polled were considering leaving. 

The EKD also published official statistics last month, showing that its membership fell significantly in 2019, from 21.14 million in 2018 to 20.7 million in 2019, a drop of 440,000.

The Catholic Church in Germany has embarked on a “Synodal Way” bringing together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes — raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

In June 2018, Pope Francis sent a 28-page letter to German Catholics urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

After a back and forth between the bishops’ conference and Vatican officials, the first synodal assembly took place in Frankfurt at the end of January. 

The second meeting, scheduled for September, has been postponed until February 2021 due to the coronavirus crisis. Organizers have decided that the “Synodal Way” will now likely conclude in February 2022, rather than October 2021, as originally planned.

Researchers at INSA Consulere interviewed 2,040 adults for the Tagespost survey on July 3-6.


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‘Heart speaks to heart’: Benedict XVI sends message for his brother’s funeral Mass

July 8, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Rome Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Benedict XVI watched his brother’s funeral via livestream on Wednesday as his secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein read the pope emeritus’ message of remembrance at the Mass in Germany.

“When I said goodbye to him in the morning on Monday, June 22, we knew it would be his farewell to this world forever. But we also knew that the benevolent God, who gave us this togetherness in this world, will also rule in the other world and will give us a new togetherness there,” Benedict XVI wrote in the message read aloud at the funeral on July 8.

“May God reward you richly, Georg, for everything you have achieved, for what you have suffered, and for what you have given to me,” the pope emeritus wrote.

Msgr. Georg Ratzinger died in Bavaria at the age of 96 on July 1. While the pope emeritus was unable to attend Ratzinger’s funeral in Regensburg, Benedict XVI  expressed gratitude for the time he spent with his older brother during his trip to Bavaria less than two weeks before his death.

“I would like to thank you for being with him again in the last days of his life. He didn’t ask for a visit from me. But I felt that it was the hour to go to him again. I am deeply grateful for this inner sign that the Lord has given me,” Benedict XVI wrote in the letter addressed to Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, who officiated his brother’s funeral Mass. 

Benedict XVI remembered his brother as a man of musical talent, humor, and piety. 

“Above all he was a man of God. Even though he did not put his piety on display, it was the actual centre of his life, even more so than his sobriety and honesty,” he said.

Msgr. Ratzinger was born in Bavaria on January 15, 1924, the first son of Joseph and Maria Ratzinger. He showed an early talent for music, learning to play the violin and the church organ as a child. 

He was ordained to the priesthood alongside his younger brother, the future pope, in 1951. The eldest Ratzinger son went on to serve as the choir master of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir of Regensburg, from 1964 to 1994.

“My brother received and understood the priesthood call as a musical call,” Benedict XVI said.

“When he finally was appointed to the position of Cathedral Choirmaster in Regensburg, it was both a moment of joy and of pain for him, as our mother had passed away almost at the same time as Cathedral Choirmaster Schrems had. Had our mother still been alive, he would not have accepted the call to be the position of choirmaster in Regensburg. This role — though bought at the price of a great deal of suffering — more and more became a joyful role for him,” he wrote.

In his homily at the funeral, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer recalled moments from Georg Ratzinger’s life from his experience in the war to his vocation as a priest and work as a church musician. The bishop emphasized his legacy with a view to the important role of church music in evangelization.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Nikola Eterović and Cardinal Gerhard Müller were present at the funeral Mass at Regensburg Cathedral.

Benedict XVI said that he received letters and emails from many countries upon the death of his brother. They “wrote to me in a way that touched my heart,” he said. “Each one should have a personal answer. Unfortunately I lack the time and strength to do so.”

“I can only thank everyone for taking part in these hours and days — Cardinal Newman’s sentence has come true for me right now: ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ … heart speaks to heart. “