Syria’s grand mufti invites Pope Benedict to visit


Vatican City, Aug 3, 2008 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, Syria’s grand mufti and top Sunni Muslim religious authority, has said he would like to meet Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and persuade him to visit Syria.

Speaking from Damascus, Sheik Hassoun told the Italian news agency Apcom, "I would like to invite the Holy Father to visit our country, following in the footsteps of St. Paul.” "I am available for a meeting at the Vatican. I would like to see him one on one to plan the visit together."

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the invitation shows a “serene climate” in Syria and “good relations” with the country.
Hassoun is part of the group of 138 Muslim scholars who have called for greater Christian-Muslim dialogue.

"There is a dialogue, and between religions and intellectuals there are always discussions," he has said, according to Apcom. "One can fight with one's wife, but then the love grows."

In September Pope Benedict met with Syria’s vice president to discuss the situation of Christians in Syria and the role of Damascus in bringing peace to the Middle East. The Pope has urged Syria to influence the region to resolve conflicts and counter terrorism, the Associated Press says.

The Pope’s predecessor John Paul II made what was considered a groundbreaking visit to the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus in May 2001.