Pope 'distressed' over Hagia Sophia mosque conversion

Police officers walk in front of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii in Istanbul

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Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian cathedral almost 1,500 years ago and turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

The global landmark was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral in the sixth century before being turned into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453.

The Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish NGO, cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and ruled the UNESCO World Heritage site would be reopened to Muslim worshipping.

In a very brief, improvised remark, Francis, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, noted that the Catholic Church marked Sunday as International Day of the Sea.

European Union ministers of foreign affairs are expected to discuss on Monday the Turkish top administrative court's decision to annul a 1934 cabinet decree converting Hagia Sophia into a museum and giving a green light for it to be used as a mosque.

The World Council of Churches has also called for the decision to be reversed whilst Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, called it disappointing.

It has also drawn condemnation from Greece, and Unesco said its World Heritage Committee would now review the monument's status.

The building has mosaics of Christian icons which were obscured while it was used as a mosque but uncovered when it became a museum.

The court move paved the way for its use again as a mosque after 85 years.

"We hail President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his courageous decision on the status of Hagia Sophia Mosque".

Erdogan said the almost 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian cathedral, would remain open to Muslims, Christians and foreigners.



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