The chairman of one of Germany's foremost Turkish community groups on Sunday slammed the planned conversion of the Haghia Sophia museum as a "wrong decision."
Gökay Sofuoglu, from the Turkish Community in Germany — one of the groups representing the Turkish community in Germany — said the decision to turn the building, which is widely viewed as a symbol of religious tolerance and secularism, into a mosque would reflect poorly on Turkey.
"The Haghia Sophia is a world heritage site and a symbol of peaceful coexistence between religions," said Sofuoglu. "It is absolutely the wrong decision to turn it into a mosque," he told the news outlet RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
Read more: Turkey's Haghia Sophia becomes a political battleground
"Turkey will now be condemned as the country that cannot cope with such an inheritance," he added.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is undermining Muslim-majority Turkey's secular pillars, announced on Friday that Muslim prayers would begin at the UNESCO World Heritage site on June 24.
A top Turkish court on Friday ruled the 1934 conversion of the Haghia Sophia into a museum to be unlawful.
The news sparked a wave of criticism, with several Christian leaders speaking out against the decision.
In the Vatican's first reaction to Turkey's decision, Pope Francis on Sunday joined the chorus of condemnation.
"I think of Haghia Sophia, and I am very saddened," Pope Francis said during his midday sermon in Saint Peter's Square, adding little more to elaborate.
Read more: Haghia Sophia imam: part of Erdogan's Islamization drive?
A tourist magnet for Istanbul, the Haghia Sophia was first constructed 1,500 years ago as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire. It was used by the Byzantines to crown their emperors.
The building was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453 and became a museum in 1935.
rc/ng (AP, Reuters, DPA, AFP)