Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his dismay at Turkey’s decision to make Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum a mosque, joining a growing list of religious and political leaders to condemn the move.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained,” Reuters reports he said during his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square.
He spoke just hours after the interim secretary-general of the World Council of Churches wrote to Turkey’s president expressing his “grief and dismay” over Turkey’s decision to change the status of Istanbul’s historic landmark, as Breitbart News reported.
The Pope joined others voicing sadness at the move.
Greece swiftly condemned it as a provocation, France deplored it while the U.S. also expressed disappointment as did various U.N. agencies.
Official statement on Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia, part of the property “Historic Areas of Istanbul,” is inscribed on the #WorldHeritage List as a museum.
The inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations.
— UNESCO (@UNESCO) July 10, 2020
Friday’s decision has long sought by conservative Muslims in Turkey and beyond and especially by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity is waning after 18 years atop Turkish politics, the New York Times reports.
Erdogan, who leads an Islamic-oriented party, has previously spoken about possibly changing Hagia Sophia’s status to a mosque but has said his government would await the Council of State’s decision, as Breitbart Jerusalem reported.
Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amidst ornate marble and mosaic decorations.
Four minarets were added to the terracotta-hued structure with cascading domes and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople — the city that is now Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers’ decision to repurpose the magestic building.
Islamist groups, however, always regard the symbolic structure as a legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and strongly objected to its status as a museum.
Greek Govt Opposes Turks Converting Hagia Sophia into a Mosque https://t.co/BBUX4eW9IU
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 4, 2020
Now their wish for change has been granted and it will proceed at pace.
Erdogan said the popular tourist attraction will open for worship before the end of the month.
“We are planning to open Hagia Sophia Mosque for worship on July 24. Hagia Sophia is under Turkish jurisdiction. Any objection to our judiciary’s decision will be perceived as a breach of our sovereignty,” Erdogan said.