Saint Sophia: Pope Francis “very saddened” by Turkey’s decision
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    Saint Sophia: Pope Francis “very saddened” by Turkey’s decision

    © Belga

    Pope Francis said on Sunday he was “very saddened” by Turkey’s decision to reconvert the former basilica of Saint Sophia into a mosque.

    “I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very saddened,” the Pope said briefly towards the end of his midday sermon in Saint Peter’s Square.

    The Pope’s words represent the first comment by the Vatican on Turkey’s decision.

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    The Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily, had reported factually on the developments on Saturday, quoting the main international reactions, but without commenting.

    A major architectural work built in the VIth Century by the Byzantines, who crowned their emperors there, Saint Sophia is classified as a World Heritage Site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It is one of Istanbul’s main cultural attractions, attracting some 3.8 million visitors in 2019.

    Converted into a mosque after the Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453, the cathedral was made into a museum in 1934 by the head of the young Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, who wanted to offer it to humanity.

    Many countries, particularly Russia and Greece, which keep close tabs on the fate of the Byzantine heritage in Turkey, as well as the United States and France, had warned Ankara against transforming Saint Sophia into a mosque, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who comes from a conservative Islamic party, has advocated for years.

    The Brussels Times