Cardinal Bo" Conversion of Hagia Sophia ‘undermines freedom of religion’

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Cardinal Bo" Conversion of Hagia Sophia ‘undermines freedom of religion’

By Deborah Castellano Lubov/ zenit.org

Let Hagia Sophia be, urges Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, who says its conversion represents an undermining of freedom of religion.

The president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) underscored this in his July 24, 2020, message provided to ZENIT English, on Hagia Sophia.

FOR FREEDOM OF RELIGION, I WILL GO TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

In his declaration on Hagia Sophia, Cardinal Bo reminded that freedom of religion or belief is a foundational human right for everyone, of every faith and none. The right to choose, practise, express and change one’s faith – or have no faith at all – is the most basic freedom for any soul.

The Asian prelate stressed he has “consistently and passionately defended this freedom for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Christians of all traditions, in my own country of Myanmar and throughout Asia.”

“Indeed often,” Cardinal Bo recalled, “I have spoken in defence of the persecuted Muslim peoples in Myanmar, and I will go on doing so without hesitation and unequivocally. For true freedom of religion requires respect for others’ freedom to practice, as well as the exercise and defense of one’s own liberty.”

“For that reason, the decision in Turkey to turn what was for 1,000 years the world’s largest Cathedral – Hagia Sophia – into a mosque,” he said, “grieves me.” As President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, he said, “it is incumbent on me to say so.”

“I work with my brothers and sisters from every major faith tradition every day of my life. And I will go to the ends of the earth,” he said, “to defend their rights.”

I WILL DEFEND EVERY RELIGION'S RIGHTS

“I will defend,” the President of Asian Bishops said, “every mosque, every synagogue, every temple possible. And I know my fellow religious leaders working for peace would do the same for me. That’s the spirit we need – to respect and defend each other’s freedoms to worship as we wish, to express our faith in accordance with our traditions, to convert freely according to our conscience, but never to be coerced, never to impose and never to seize or grab.”

“In previous epochs of history, we know that the seizure of one another’s sacred and holy buildings and sites has caused untold distress and bitterness and, in our generation, we should not be so foolish as to repeat the mistakes of history.”

Stressing reciprocity is a human and natural virtue, he pleaded: “Let Hagia Sophia be.”

The Cardinal decries outlines various injustices toward Muslims and how he has spoken out likewise against them.

“In my country, Myanmar,” he said, “mosques have been razed to the ground and I have spoken out – frequently and at some risk.”

“In China,” he continued, “the Uyghur Muslims are facing what amounts to some of the contemporary world’s worst mass atrocities and I urge the international community to investigate. In India and Sri Lanka Muslims have faced appalling violence and I have condemned such inhumanity.”

“Similarly, in Indonesia,” he said, “Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques have been destroyed by other Muslims, and churches have been forcibly closed. In Iran the Baha’is face an intense assault on their freedoms, and in Syria and Iraq sacred places have been wantonly destroyed while, sadly, closer to home, we have seen the same phenomenon in China with shrines destroyed, the Cross removed from places of worship, and even churches, like Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing, demolished.”

“Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque,” Cardinal Bo stated, “represents a similar undermining of freedom of religion or belief, love for each other, respect for the dignity of difference.”

WHAT DOES CONVERSION DO OTHERS THAN TO DIVIDE...
“At a time when humanity is enduring intense strains due to the global pandemic,” he appealed, “we need to come together, not drive communities apart.” We must, he encouraged, “put aside identity politics, abandon power plays, prevent ethnic and religious conflicts and value the dignity of difference among every human being. And we must cherish diversity and the unity we find within it.”

“How does turning what was once the world’s largest cathedral into a mosque do anything except sow tensions, divide people and inflict pain? How does placing Hagia Sophia into the hands of people who have no sense of its history and heritage and who will destroy its Christian identity help bring people together? How does seizing Hagia Sophia uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It doesn’t. It merely reopens wounds and exacerbates divides at a time when we should be healing humanity.”

Tue, 07/28/2020 - 10:24
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