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Turkey invites Pope Francis for Hagia Sophia mosque conversion ceremony

The leaders of Qatar and Azerbaijan are also expected to join [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 July, 2020

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Pope Francis is among several world leaders invited to the ceremony marking the re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia, founded as a Christian church, into a mosque.
The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is among a number of world leaders invited by Turkey to a ceremony on Friday marking the re-conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

The pope was invited to attend the historic ceremony alongside between 1,000 and 1,500 expected to attend Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN on Sunday.

The presidents of a number of other unnamed foreign countries have also been invited to the ceremony, Hurriyet Daily News reported this week.

The leaders of Azerbaijan and Qatar, both close allies of Ankara, are expected to attend.

It is unclear whether Pope Francis will attend the ceremony. The Holy See has not yet commented on the invitation.

Earlier this month, the Catholic leader said he was "very distressed" over the decision to convert the world-famous monument into a Muslim place of worship.

"My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very saddened," he said.

One of Turkey's most-visited tourist sites, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral under the Christian Byzantine Empire.

It was later converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 but became a museum as part of a secularisation drive led by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic.

The controversial decision to change the UNESCO World Heritage site's status has courted condemnation from neigbouring Greece and Egypt, a fierce rival of Turkey.

The US has also expressed "disappointment", while Moscow said the decision had been "noted with regret". The World Council of Churches, which represents 350 Christian churches, and the Russian Orthodox church also voiced their opposition to the move.

The first official Muslim prayers will be held at the newly converted mosque on Friday afternoon. They will be led by Ali Erbas, Turkey's top religious official.

On Tuesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called on worshippers to join the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in marking Friday as a "Day of Mourning" over the move.

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