Pope Francis said on Sunday that he is ``deeply pained'' over the decision by Turkey to change the status of Hagia Sophia _ which was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral - from a museum to a mosque.
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. ``And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul,'' the pontiff said. ``I am thinking of St. Sophia and I am deeply pained.''
Francis said no more but was clearly referring to the move by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to formally convert the monumental building back into a mosque. The colossal Santa Sophia cathedral was turned into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453. The Turkish secular government in 1934 decided to make it a museum.
The pope, who heads the Roman Catholic church, is adding his voice to strong objections a day earlier by the head of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. That organization described its ``grief and dismay'' in noting that Hagia Sophia has been ``a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations.'' The council's membership comprises Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches.
Erdogan declared the monument open for Muslim worship after a high court annulled the 1934 government decision.