DAMASCUS, May 7, 01 (CWNews.com) – Pope John Paul II made a ground- breaking visit to a mosque in Damascus on Sunday. 
"It is a great joy to enter into this sacred shrine of Islam," the Holy Father told Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro, the Grand Mufti of Syria. The Grand Mufti had welcomed him to the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus.
John Paul became the first Roman Pontiff ever to enter an Islamic house of worship. 
The Pope was greeted outside the mosque by the Grand Mufti and the Syrian government’s minister of religious affairs. After removing his shoes and donning white slippers in accordance with Islamic norms, the Pontiff entered the mosque for a short visit. He spent some time in private prayer before the tomb inside the mosque which hold the relics of St. John the Baptist. The Omayyad Mosque was originally a pagan shrine, and then a Christian basilica, before it was rebuilt as a mosque in the 8th century. 
After his short visit inside the mosque itself, the Pope returned to the courtyard for an exchange of remarks with Sheikh Kaftaro. For the second time in as many days, the Pope heard a sharp denunciation of Israel, and responded with a quiet plea for cooperation between Muslims and Christians. The Pope expressed his desire that "religious leaders and professors of religion, both Muslim and Christian, will present our two important communities as partners in respectful dialogue, never again as communities in conflict." Inter-religious harmony, he added, "will lead us to various forms of cooperation, particularly in service to the poor."