Pope Francis set to become first pontiff to visit the Great Mosque of Rome
Pope Francis is to be the first Pope to enter the Great Mosque of Rome, according to the president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII).
Although the Vatican is yet to confirm the proposed visit on the 27 January, Pope Francis is receiving a delegate from Rome's Grand Mosque today, when the invitation is expected to be formalised.
The visit to the Grand Mosque – one of the largest Islamic places of worship outside the Arab world – would follow the Pope's historic visit to Rome's Great Synagogue on 17 January.
Imam Izzedin Elzir, president of the UCOII, has emphasised the significance of the meeting in the current global political climate.
"Today more than ever it's necessary to stress the importance of this dialogue," he said in an interview with Catholic broadcasters TG2000. "There's no doubt that the pope's visit will help this process."
The Pope's visit to the mosque – the ninth time a pontiff would have visited an Islamic house of worship – would be "an important gesture which shows that religions dialogue, talk to each other, [and] visit each other's places of worship," Elzir added.
The imam echoed Francis' previous statement that those who use the name of God to justify killing have "nothing to do with religion, but are instead pursuing political interest and power."
Elzir also praised the Pope as "not only good for the Christian world but for all mankind, because he's addressing issues dear to believers and non-believers."
Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to enter a mosque, visiting the Grand Umayyad Mosque in Damascus in 2001, where the remains of John the Baptist are said to lay according to Islamic tradition.