21 January 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Francis to become the first pope to visit the Great Mosque of Rome
Visit to the largest place of Muslim worship outside the Arab world could take place before end of January
Pope Francis is poised to become the first Pope to visit the Great Mosque of Rome, understood to be the largest site of Islamic worship outside of the Arab world.
Yesterday the Pope received an official invitation to go to the mosque from a Muslim delegation and although the Vatican has not confirmed any details the president of the Union of Italy’s Islamic Communities, Imam Izzedin Elzir, said the visit could take place as early as 27 January.
Speaking to TV2000, a television network sponsored by the Italian Church, Elzir said the need for dialogue between religions was needed more than ever.
“There’s no doubt that the pope’s visit will help this process,” he said.
Last Sunday Francis went to the Great Synagogue of Rome where he called on Christianity, Judaism and Islam - the world’s great monotheistic religions - to work together against terrorism and build peace. Today it was confirmed that Islamic State (IS) has destroyed St Elijah’s, in Mosul, the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq.
Francis has consistently shown a desire to have a dialogue with Islam during his papacy. In Turkey he visited the Blue Mosque and also visited a mosque in Bangui, in the Central African Republic - where Muslims have been persecuted by Christian militia groups - afterwards asking the local Imam to join him on the popemobile.
The first Pope to set foot in an Islamic place of worship was John Paul II who went to the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus in 2001.
John Paul II also gave his blessing to the construction of the mosque in Rome after there was opposition to the building’s construction, which cost €40 million, and was partly funded by the Saudi Arabian royal family. The land for the mosque, which can house up to 12,000 worshippers, was donated by the city of Rome in 1974.
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