Speaking at a service in the Vatican at a recent date, the Pope has expressed his displeasure putting forth his thoughts and prayers towards Istanbul. The recent decision of Istanbul to close down Hagia Sophia and turning it into mosque has “pained” the Roman Catholic leader. Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian Cathedral nearly 1,500 years ago and then turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of 1453. The UNESCO World Heritage Site became a museum in 1934 under Turkish Republic founding Father Ataturk.
However, earlier this week a Turkish Court annulled the site’s museum status quoting that it’s use as a museum was not possible legally. Pope Francis confined himself to a handful of words on the issue quoting “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went on to say that Muslim prayers would be held in Hagia Sophia on July 24th.
Shortly after the announcement was made by the President, the first call to prayer was recited on the site and broadcasted on all of Turkey’s main news channels. Furthermore, the social media channels of Hagia Sophia were taken down. The Islamists in Turkey have long called for it to be a mosque again while the secular opposition have opposed it with the extreme displeasure. Defending the move, President Erdogan strongly stressed that the country simply exercised the country’s sovereign right adding that the new structure would be open to Muslims, non-Muslims and all foreign visitors.
The Pope is not the only world leader of a religious sentiment who has opposed the move. The World Council of Churches called on President Erdogan to reverse the decision. The Church in Russia, which is the home to the largest Orthodox Christian community immediately expressed regret that the Turkish Court should consider concerns when making their ruling on Hagia Sophia.