FILE PHOTO: Police officers walk in front of Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii, in Istanbul, Turkey, on 11 July 2020. REUTERS / Murad Sezer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) ̵
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very saddened, “he said during his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the first prayers will be held in Hagia Sophia on July 24, after declaring that the ancient monument was once again a mosque following a court ruling revoking his museum status.
The World Council of Churches invited Erdogan to reverse his decision and Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christians of Istanbul, called him disappointing.
Erdogan said that the almost ancient 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian cathedral, would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners alike.
He added that Turkey exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticisms of the move as an attack on its independence.
Greece condemned the move and UNESCO stated that its World Heritage Committee would review the status of Hagia Sophia and that Turkey’s decision raised doubts about the impact on its universal value as a site of importance that transcends borders and generations.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky