Pope Francis said he is “pained” by Turkey’s decision to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which was originally built as a Christian cathedral, back into a mosque.
A Turkish court annulled the site’s museum status last week, saying its use as anything other than a mosque was “not possible legally”.
Speaking at a Sunday service on July 12 from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, the Roman Catholic leader added that his “thoughts go to Istanbul”.
Pope Francis, in a very brief, improvised remark, noted that the Catholic Church marked Sunday as International Day of the Sea. “And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: To Istanbul,” the pontiff said. “I am thinking of St. Sophia and I am deeply pained.”
Francis said no more but was clearly referring to the move by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to formally convert the monumental building back into a mosque.
The colossal Santa Sophia cathedral was turned into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453. The Turkish secular government in 1934 decided to make it a museum.
The pope, who heads the Roman Catholic Church, is adding his voice to strong objections a day earlier by the head of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.
That organisation described its “grief and dismay” in noting that Hagia Sophia has been “a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations.” The council’s membership comprises Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches.
Erdogan declared the monument open for Muslim worship after a high court annulled the 1934 government decision. (Source: Mainichi Japan)