Pope Francis 'very distressed' over Hagia Sophia mosque move

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accompanied by his wife Emine Erdogan attends the opening ceremony of the Yeditepe Biennial at the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul Turkey 31 March 2018

Top Greek Diplomat Views Status Change of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia as Global Issue REUTERS Kayhan Ozer

"And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul", the pontiff said. "I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained", he said during his weekly blessing in St. Peter's Square.

Since a cabinet decree in 1934, the iconic building in Istanbul has served as a museum, but on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a presidential decree to transfer the management of the building from the Ministry of Culture to the Presidency of Religious Affairs.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said France "deplores" Turkey's decision on Hagia Sophia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also urged Turkey to keep the building as a museum.

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Pope Francis on Sunday (July 12) joined an global chorus of condemnation of Turkey's decision to convert Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia landmark back into a mosque.

The World Council of Churches has called on President Erdogan to reverse the decision.

The court ruled that "there are no provisions whatsoever in the convention (concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage) that prevents. the usage of the Hagia Sophia in accordance with domestic law".

Hagia Sophia, a major tourist attraction listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, was built as a church in 537 C.E. during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and became the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople until the Ottoman invasion in 1453, when it was converted into a mosque.

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The Pope is one of several religious and political leaders worldwide who have criticised the move.

He added that Turkey had exercised its sovereign right in converting it to a mosque and would interpret criticism of the move as an attack on its independence.

The WCC says its membership comprises 350 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches with some 500 million believers. The Islamic call to prayer is expected to ring out from it again on July 24.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said it was "disappointed" by the decision but looked forward to hearing the plans "to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all".

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Authorities had taken the move "for the general good of the community as well as the health of the students", Yeung said. The impact of China's new national security law for Hong Kong continues to reverberate far from its shores.

"Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims".

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