Pope Francis has said he is "very saddened" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to turn the celebrated Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque. Source: Vatican News/BBC.
Speaking at the recitation of the Sunday Angelus from his window above St Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis acknowledged the celebration of Sea Sunday throughout the Church and extended “an affectionate greeting to all those who work at sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country”.
He also had a particular greeting for those who gathered yesterday in the Italian port of Civitavecchia-Tarquinia for the celebration of the Eucharist.
The Pope said that thinking on the sea carried his thoughts a little further away and made him think about what is happening in Istanbul.
This week, Mr Erdogan announced his decision to turn the Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque.
“I think of Hagia Sophia”, said Pope Francis, “and I am very saddened.”
The Pope's comments came after a call from the World Council of Churches for Mr Erdogan to reverse his decision.
The BBC reports that in a letter to Mr Erdogan, the Council, which counts 350 churches as members, said the move would sow division.
The UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul has been a museum since 1934.
Mr Erdogan announced his decision on Friday following a court ruling which annulled the Hagia Sophia's museum status.
The Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
It was converted to a museum on the orders of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern, secular Turkey.
Since then religious services have been banned at the site, but devout Muslims have long campaigned for worship to be allowed.
The Geneva-based World Council of Churches says it represents more than 500 million Christians.
The letter is from Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary, who said the Council feels "grief and dismay".
Mr Erdogan defended his decision by stressing that the country had exercised its sovereign right. He said the first Muslim prayers would be held on July 24.
Pope Francis: 'I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened' (Vatican News)
Hagia Sophia is too complex for Erdoğan's cleansing (The Guardian)
Condemnation from abroad as Erdogan converts Hagia Sophia into mosque (Sydney Morning Herald)