Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Hagia Sophia mosque move
Pope Francis has said he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pontiff said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
On Saturday the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano carried reaction from various countries to Friday’s decision, without making any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced on Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on 24 July at the Unesco world heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the building to be redesignated as a mosque, and in 2018 he recited a verse from the Qur’an at Hagia Sophia.
Erdoğan’s announcement came after a court cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.
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