Anniversary: Mark 10 years since first pontiff mosque visit

FRIDAY, MAY 6: Ten years ago today, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to enter a mosque, when he stepped inside a Muslim place of worship in Damascus, Syria. As part of his historic visit to the Holy Land, John Paul II entered a mosque that was once a Christian church and that is believed to contain the head of John the Baptist. Although the pope’s intention at the Umayyad Mosque was partially Christian—he followed Islamic tradition throughout his visit.

This act by John Paul II on May 6, 2001, was in keeping with his personal commitment to healing historic wounds between the Abrahamic faiths. The late pope frequently spoke with and made personal visits to Muslims, held interfaith prayer events and supported Christian-Islamic dialogue. (ABCNews covered his mosqe visit.)

Even after the events of 9/11, Pope John Paul II specifically declared that the Catholic Church didn’t view the events as a religious war between Islam and Christianity. Interfaith outreach is just one of the hallmarks of John Paul II’s papacy in the international spotlight during his recent beatification at the Vatican. (ReadtheSpirit recently covered some of the major themes of Pope John Paul II’s teaching.)

Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from around the world gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to pray for and witness the late pope’s penultimate step on the journey to sainthood. As Catholics await one more miracle to be attributed to John Paul II, they also debate his controversial ways. While crowds chanted “Saint now!” at his funeral, others argue to this day that the march toward canonization is moving too fast. (The Guardian has an article. CNN World has a video, too.)

Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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