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After synagogue visit, Pope invited to Rome’s main mosque

Muslim clerics deliver invitation to Vatican days after Pope touts ‘unbreakable bond’ with Jews, denounces anti-Semitism

Pope Francis, flanked by Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, right, during his first visit to a synagogue as pope on  January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis, flanked by Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, right, during his first visit to a synagogue as pope on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY — Representatives of Italy’s Muslim community have invited Pope Francis to visit the main mosque in Rome, just days after Francis paid his respects at the capital’s main synagogue in a sign of interfaith friendship.

The Vatican said the invitation was delivered by a delegation of Muslims who met with Francis privately inside the Vatican on Wednesday morning.

No date has been set, but the head of the Union of the Italian Islamic Community, Izzedin Elizir, told the TV station of the Italian bishops’ conference that the visit could come as early as Jan. 27. The Vatican had no comment other than to confirm the invitation had been received.

Francis has visited several houses of Muslim worship during his foreign trips, including in Jerusalem, Istanbul, and, more recently, in the Central African Republic.

On Sunday, Francis made his first visit to a synagogue as pontiff, greeting Rome’s Jewish community in their house of worship as his two predecessors did.

During the visit, marked by tight security and historic continuity, Francis also rejected all forms of anti-Semitism and called for “maximum vigilance” and early intervention to prevent another Holocaust from taking place.

He joined a standing ovation when Holocaust survivors wearing striped scarves reminiscent of their camp uniforms were singled out for attention at the start of the ceremony.

Francis began his visit by laying a wreath at a plaque outside the synagogue marking where Roman Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943, and at another marking the slaying of a 2-year-old boy in an attack by Palestinians on the synagogue in 1982.

He met with members of the boy’s family and survivors of the attack before entering the synagogue, the seat of the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora.

Evoking “the unbreakable bond between Jews and Christians,” the pope delivered a message of peace.

“Violence against men is in contradiction with any religion worthy of the name, and in particular the big monotheist religions,” he said.

Pope Francis makes his first visit to a synagogue as pope, greeting Rome's Jewish community in their house of worship as his two predecessors did in a show interfaith friendship at a time of religiously-inspired violence around the globe, on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis makes his first visit to a synagogue as pope, greeting Rome’s Jewish community in their house of worship as his two predecessors did in a show interfaith friendship at a time of religiously-inspired violence around the globe, on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The synagogue visit came amid a spate of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe, Africa and elsewhere, and Francis was expected to denounce all violence committed in the name of God, as he has done on several occasions.

“The hatred that comes from racism and bias or worse which uses God’s name or words to kill deserves our contempt and our firm condemnation,” Ruth Dureghello, the president of the Rome’s Jewish community, said in introductory remarks.

Francis’ visit continued the tradition of papal visits that began with St. John Paul II in 1986 and continued with Benedict XVI in 2010. It also highlighted the 50th anniversary of the landmark shift in Christian-Jewish relations that was represented by the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis, flanked by Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, right, during his first visit to a synagogue as pope on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis, flanked by Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, right, during his first visit to a synagogue as pope on January 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The council document “Nostra Aetate” revolutionized the Catholic Church’s relations with Jews by among other things repudiating the centuries-old charge that Jews as a whole were responsible for the death of Christ.

The Argentine Jesuit has a longstanding friendship with the Jewish community in Argentina from his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

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