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Pope ‘very pained’ by decision to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (church) museum into mosque

  • The nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia was once a Christian cathedral

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday he was hurt by Turkey’s decision to make Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum a mosque, the latest religious leader to condemn the move.

“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained,” he said during his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the first prayers would be held in Hagia Sophia on July 24, after declaring the ancient monument was once again a mosque following a court ruling revoking its status as a museum.Pope Francis sitting in front of a building: Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican © Reuters/POOL New Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican

The World Council of Churches has called on Erdogan to reverse his decision and Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, called it disappointing.

Erdogan said the nearly 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian cathedral, would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners.

He added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticism of the move as an attack on its independence.

Greece has condemned the move and UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status and that Turkey’s decision raised questions about the impact on its universal value as a site of importance transcending borders and generations.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

a view of a large body of water with a city in the background: Turkey's President Erdogan has formally converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque and reopened it for for worship as he drums up support for his Islamic-rooted party - sparking fury from Christian groups and the US. The move came hours after Turkey's highest administrative court issued a landmark ruling that unanimously annulled the 1934 cabinet decision to renovate the site into a museum. It meant the green light was given for Erdogan to restore the UNESCO World Heritage site's previous status as a mosque, and he has since declared it open for Muslim worship.

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