Yesterday, Pope Francis gave his Sunday address from the window of his private study in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace overlooking the Faithful in Saint Peter’s Square.
At the end of his address, he reflected on the celebration of the International Day of the Sea, held every year on the second Sunday of July.
“I extend warm greetings to all those who work on the sea, especially to those who are far from their loved ones and their country. I greet all those who gathered this morning at the port of Civitavecchia-Tarquinia for the Eucharistic Celebration.”
Dwelling on the sea, Pope Francis said “the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul.”
The Holy Father is referring to the Prime Minister of Turkey Erdogan signing a decree declaring the Hagia Sophia a ‘mosque.’ Pope Francis said the decision “pained” him, adding that “when I think of Hagia Sophia, I am very saddened.”
Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople also lamented the decision. He said the Hagia Sophia belongs not only to those who own it but to all of humanity, warning it could “push millions of Christians around the world against Islam.”
“The Turkish people have the great responsibility and honor to make the universality of this wonderful monument shine. As a museum it serves as a symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill also expressed concerns that turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque was a threat to Christianity, saying “the concerns expressed by millions of Christians were not listened to.”
Erdogan deflected any criticism, saying criticism is only “an attack against our independence,” and that Turkey had the right to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.