Syria's grand mufti invites pope to Syria

Syria's grand mufti, the country's top Sunni Muslim religious authority, says he would like to meet Pope Benedict XVI and persuade him to visit Syria. The mufti, Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, made the comments in Damascus, according to the Italian news agency Apcom and other reports Friday. "I would like to invite the Holy Father to visit our country, following in the footsteps of St. Paul," Hassoun was quoted by Apcom as saying. "I am available for a meeting at the Vatican. I would like to see him one on one to plan the visit together." Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made a groundbreaking visit to the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus in May 2001. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the invitation attests to the current "serene climate" in Syria and "good relations" with the country.