Francis to be first pontiff to visit Rome's Mosque

Delegation to visit Vatican, possibly to set date

(ANSA) - Vatican City, January 19 - Pope Francis is planning to visit Rome's Grand Mosque in what would would be a first for a Catholic pontiff, ANSA learned Tuesday.
    The move would follow on Francis' visit last Sunday to Rome's Great Synagogue - the third such visit in history by a pope.
    Planning on both sides for the historic visit has been in the works for 10 months. The aim is for it to take place during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the theme of which - as Pope Francis himself highlighted at the opening of the Holy Year on December 8 - is common to both faiths.
    Representatives from the Mosque have been in contact with Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who was chosen by the pope to lead the Jubilee Year.
    On Wednesday in the Vatican, Pope Francis will receive a delegation from Rome's Grand Mosque, at which time the invitation to visit the Mosque will be formalised, and in which a date may likely be set.
    The delegation will include Imam Yahya Pallavicini; Abdellah Redouane, vice president of Rome's Islamic Religious Community (CO.RE.IS), the director of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy, which manages the mosque complex, and ambassadors and representatives of the Grand Mosque's board of directors.
    The pope's visit takes on special significance given the current world climate of religious violence, fundamentalist extremism and Islamist terrorism.
    The image of the leader of the Catholic Church standing side by side with Muslim leaders would send a strong message against violence in the name of God.
    The first pope to enter a mosque was John Paul II on May 6, 2001 - just a few months prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11 - when he visited the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
    On November 30, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI held a silent prayer in the the Sultan Ahmed Mosque of Istanbul - the Blue Mosque - where an attack against tourists took place in recent days.
    Pope Francis prayed at the Blue Mosque on November 29, 2014, and also visited the Koudoukou Central Mosque in Bangui during his visit to the Central African Republic and other African countries last November.
    The Grand Mosque of Rome - the largest in the western world - is located in northern Rome at the foot of the Parioli hills, next to the Acqua Acetosa sporting complex.
    Designed by architect Paolo Portoghesi, the Mosque is housed on 30,000 square metres of land and has capacity of up to 12,000 people. It was commissioned and financed by Saudi Arabia's King Faisal, and took more than 20 years to complete.
    The City of Rome donated the land for the Mosque in 1974, but the cornerstone wasn't laid until 10 years later, in the presence of Italy's president at the time, Sandro Pertini.
    The Mosque was inaugurated on June 21, 1995.


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