Pope Francis to Be First-Ever Catholic Leader to Visit Rome's Great Mosque, Islamic Leaders Say
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Great Mosque in Rome at the end of the month, Muslim leaders confirmed this week.
Leaders from one of the largest mosques in the western world told local news outlets that they requested a special visit from the pontiff several months ago.
Although the Vatican has yet to confirm its visit, Omar Camilletti, a member of the mosque's governing council, told CBS News that the meeting is "certain" to take place, but hasn't been confirmed due to security reasons.
CBS News reports that Imam Izzedin Elzir, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, has confirmed that the meeting will take place on Jan. 27.
Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio that a delegation of Islamic leaders visited the pope this week to extend an invitation to the Great Mosque.
The delegation included members of the Islamic Community of Italy and the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy.
Lombardi said the pontiff will "study the invitation and come to a decision," adding that the Catholic leader "would be cautious about a date."
Th Vatican spokesperson added that any dates that have been revealed to media outlets are "without foundation."
According to Rome Reports, the Islamic delegation, which was filmed visiting the pope earlier this week, told the Catholic leader that it is their "honor to meet you and recognize your moral and spiritual leadership. We are honored to invite you to the Islamic Cultural Center."
The pope replied by telling the delegation that it would be "a great pleasure to visit you also, because it would be a great sign of our brotherhood."
The pope's invitation to visit the Great Mosque comes days after he visited Rome's Great Synagogue on Sunday.
Francis embraced Jewish leaders at the synagogue and delivered a speech denouncing anti-Semitic violence and promising "maximum vigilance" against religious-inspired attacks.
The pope also described the Jewish religion as the "elder brothers" of the Christian religion.
Francis has previously visited four mosques, including a November 2014 visit to the 17th century Sultan Ahmet mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, where the pontiff focused his speech on the importance of religious freedom and acceptance.
The pontiff has also visited mosques in the Central African Republic and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, considered to be a highly important religious site for the Muslim religion.
If the pope does accept the invite to visit Rome's Great Mosque, he will be the first pope to do so.
The pontiff has repeatedly spoken on the importance of unity between Christians and Muslims, emphasizing this theme during a speech in the Central African Republic in November 2015.
"Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters," he told the audience.
"Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace," the pope added, subtly criticizing religions that use violence to communicate their beliefs.