Pope receives official invitation to visit Rome’s mosque

VATICAN CITY — A Muslim delegation formally invited Pope Francis to visit Rome’s mosque, the largest mosque outside the Islamic world. It would mark the first time a pope visited the local mosque, which was opened in 1995.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed that the pope received the invitation Jan. 20 during an early morning private audience at the Vatican with a five-person Muslim delegation.

Father Lombardi told reporters that the invitation “will be taken into consideration. The pope will see if and when he can go.”

Imam Izzedin Elzir, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, told the Catholic television Tg2000 Jan. 19 that the delegation, during its meeting with the pope, was going to “reaffirm and underscore the importance of the dialogue with the Catholic Church that has been taking place for decades.”

“Today it is necessary to highlight the importance of this dialogue more than ever before,” Elzir said.

The first pontiff to visit a mosque was St. John Paul II when he traveled to Damascus, Syria, in 2001. Popes Benedict XVI and Francis both visited Istanbul’s Blue Mosque during their trips to Turkey — in 2006 and 2014, respectively.