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Group unveils initiative on Hagia Sophia June 16, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Religion & Faith.

A nascent international initiative to restore the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul as a place of worship for all the world’s Christians was outlined on Thursday by a veteran Greek-American political leader, less than a week before a public hearing is scheduled on the religious monument’s condition at the US Congress.

Chris Spirou, a noted New Hampshire Democratic leader and Greek-American political leader, said the organisation he heads up, Free Agia Sophia Council of America, will present evidence showing the “violation” of Eastern Orthodoxy’s most renowned basilica over the past 554 years.

“We will demonstrate that the violations have turned this most sacred site for Christians into an international bazaar. We will present our belief, as a Council that believes in human rights, that no government has the right to determine the use of a church or has the right to appoint or approve of religious faiths, to ordain priests or to determine holy figures,” Spirou charged in a clear reference to the Turkish government.

He nevertheless stressed, at the beginning of his comments during a press conference in Athens, that the initiative has absolutely nothing to do with Greece or sensitive Greek-Turkish relations and US-Turkish relations, or even Greek-US-Turkish relations. He also said he has had no contacts with Greek officials or the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the campaign, noting that he learned of his invitation to appear before the joint Congressional Human Rights Caucus while on a visit to Athens.

“The Ecumenical Patriarch is in the same position as the Hagia Sophia. He, the Patriarch, is in captivity … I don’t want to worsen his position,” Spirou said in answer to a press question. Moreover, he emphasised that the Hagia Sofia is to Orthodox Christians what St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is to Roman Catholics, or the Wailing Wall to Jews and Mecca to Muslims.

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus will convene next Wednesday to focus on reports of violations, brought up by the Council, at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the renowned early Byzantine-era cathedral that was converted into a mosque after Constantinople’s fall in 1453 and later turned into a museum in the early 20th century with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

The hearing, held by the joint Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC), marks the first time that Congress will hear testimony on the situation concerning Hagia Sophia.

The hearing will be chaired by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Ca), the chairman of the influential House Committee on Foreign Affairs, with Spirou representing the Free Agia Sophia Council of America group during his testimony before the caucus.

Related Links > http://www.freeagiasophia.org

In Europe > http://www.freeagiasophia.eu

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