Muslims Officially Invite Pope Francis to Visit Rome's Grand Mosque
Pope called for Christian-Muslim reciprocity during the meeting.
A delegation of Italian Muslims today personally invited Pope Francis to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome, thought to be the largest mosque in the Western world.
The Holy Father thanked the delegation for the invitation, presented to him in the Paul VI hall after this morning’s general audience, but has yet to agree to visit. If he does so, Francis will be the first pope to visit the Rome mosque which was inaugurated in 1995 and financed by Saudi Arabia.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope will “study the invitation, and come to a decision,” but added that he “would be cautious about a date.” He said any dates being publicized in the press are “without foundation.” Some reports had suggested the Pope would visit Jan. 27, soon after his first visit to Rome’s synagogue on Sunday.
The Muslim delegation included Imam Yahya Pallavicini of the Islamic Community of Italy, Abdellah Redouane, the director of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy, and Saudi Arabian ambassador Rayed Khaled Krimly. They were accompanied by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
Speaking to the Italian news agency SIR, Pallavicini said the meeting was “very positive and friendly”. He said the Pope “referred to rights that must be reciprocated between Christians and Muslims” and which must be the “foundation of brotherhood, of friendship and of serious cooperation.”
Christians are suffering great persecution and discrimination in Muslim majority countries, especially in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia also continues to forbid churches to be built in its country, despite having a large ex-pat community of domestic helpers who come from the Philippines and other Catholic-majority countries and regions.
Pallavicini said the Saudi ambassador “made explicit reference to solidarity" and the same "protections and defense of Christian minorities as there are for Muslims” but which are instead ”subjected to abuse and violence.”
Pallavicini, who has a Japanese mother and Italian father, said it was “a relatively short meeting” today but that any papal visit “will surely be a symbolic” event. He said he hoped it would be of “very significant spiritual meaning for all citizens in Rome, in Italy and in the world and I would say to all believers, in particular Christians and Muslims in Italy and Rome and throughout the world. This is what we’re working for and so we hope.”
He said he was “confident” the Pope would agree to visit the enormous mosque “in this Year of Mercy.”