John Paul II Will Visit Mosque in Damascus

Would Be a First for a Pope

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 5, 2001 ( For the first time in history, a Pope will enter a mosque.

The event should take place May 6 in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Barefoot, as all other pilgrims who enter the sacred place of Muslim worship, John Paul II will visit the splendid Umayad Mosque, in whose interior there is a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, where a relic of Christ´s precursor was once housed. The saint is also considered a prophet by Muslims.

It was known that the Pontiff would enter the courtyard of the mosque to meet the Grand Mufti — akin to the meeting on the Esplanade of Jerusalem´s mosques, which took place last March 26. It was uncertain, however, whether the Bishop of Rome would enter the premises consecrated to Muslim prayer.

On Sunday, Greek-Melkite Archbishop Isidore Battikha, who is helping to coordinate preparations for the papal visit in Damascus, published the historic news.

The Pope´s visit to a mosque would recall another of his historic gestures, which took place April 13, 1986, when he visited the synagogue in Rome.

The visit to the Umayad Mosque will be the occasion to appeal for sincere dialogue with Islam, in memory of the decades from 636 to 705 in which in this place, the Christian Church dedicated to the Baptist, was shared with Muslim worshippers, before it was replaced by the grand mosque.

Just this fact alone will make John Paul II´s trip to Damascus historic. The Pontiff will arrive in this city, continuing his pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps, as announced in June 1999. The trip will also be full of ecumenical connotations because, in addition to the Syrian capital, the Pope hopes to go to Malta and Athens, Greece.

This week, the permanent 12-member commission of the Sacred Synod of the autocephalous Church of Greece will make known its view on a possible visit of the Holy Father to the Greek capital.

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