Pope “very sad” by the decision to transform the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque

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FILE PHOTO: Police officers pass in front of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii, in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 11, 2020. REUTERS / Murad Sezer

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

“My thoughts are with Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very sad, “he said during his weekly blessing in Saint Peter’s Square.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that the first prayers would be held in Hagia Sophia on July 24, after declaring that the old monument was once again a mosque following a court decision revoking its museum status.

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

Erdogan said that 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 by transforming it into a mosque and would interpret the criticism of this decision as an attack on its independence.

Greece has condemned this decision and UNESCO has declared that its World Heritage Committee will examine the status of Hagia Sophia and that Turkey’s decision raises questions as to the impact on its universal value as a site for importance transcending borders and generations.

Philip Pullella report; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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