Pope Francis accepts Rome's Grand Mosque invitation

Saudi ambassador 'Muslims and Christians in the same boat'

20 January, 20:15

    A view of the Grand Mosque of Rome A view of the Grand Mosque of Rome

    ROME - Saudi ambassador Rayed Krimly said Wednesday that he had invited Pope Francis to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome.

    Krimley is head of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy - in charge of the management of Rome's Grand Mosque - and head of the center's delegation that met with the Pope in the Vatican on Wednesday to officially invite him to visit the mosque. ''His Holiness warmly received and accepted the invitation,'' according to a statement issued by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The Pope received the Muslim delegation shortly before 9 AM in the Paul VI hall prior to the general audience. ''Regardless of whether we are Muslims, Christians or Jews, we are all in the same boat and we can enjoy peace and prosperity if we remain united,'' Ambassador Krimly said.

    ''United in fostering tolerance, dialogue, mercy and compassion.

    United in a rejection of the evils of hatred, extremism and terrorism.'' ''Christian Arabs, like European Muslims, are an authentic, integrated part of their countries,'' he added. The delegation also included the two vice presidents of the center, the Egyptian and Moroccan ambassadors Amr Mostafa Helmy and Hassan Abouyoub, the center's secretary general Abdellah Redouane and the head of the center's committee for inter-religious dialogue, Yahya Pallavicini. ''Recognizing the moral and spiritual leadership of His Holiness in celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy,'' the Saudi embassy noted, ''and reiterating Muslims' widespread commitment to promote the values of dialogue and beneficial cooperation with worshippers of every faith, the delegation extended an official invitation to His Holiness to visit the center at an appropriate date for His Holiness.'' The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that the invitation had been accepted ''with gratitude and it will be considered. The Pope will see what to do.'' Lombardi urged caution in discussing the dates for the visit, though Vatican sources noted that it might be April 10 (a Sunday). After on Sunday visiting the synagogue of Rome, the third pope ever to enter the Grand Temple, Pope Francis thus will soon be going to the Grand Mosque of the capital, the largest place of Muslim worship in the West. He will be the first pope ever to do so. The Grand Mosque was funded by Saudi's King Faysal, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. The project was entrusted to the Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi and it took over 20 years to build it: from 1974 to 1995, when it was inaugurated. It will be a step of enormous significance for Pope Francis in the direction of dialogue and peaceful coexistence between religions, amid radical jihadism that is causing bloodshed across the world. On Tuesday, the Pope will receive Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the Qatari emir is also expected to visit the Vatican in the near future.

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