Chems-Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. / FISOM7691 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2022 / 11:25 am (CNA).

After meeting Pope Francis on Monday, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris invited Muslims in France to pray for peace in Ukraine.

In a statement after his private audience at the Vatican on Feb. 28, Chems-Eddine Hafiz said that the pope expressed deep concern about the fate of migrants arriving in Europe and the conflict in Ukraine.

“On the pope’s initiative, the Grand Mosque of Paris will invite the Muslims of France to pray, on the occasion of the great Friday prayer, March 4, 2022, for an end to the war in Ukraine and for men to come to their senses.”

Pope Francis has asked people around the world to fast and pray for peace in Ukraine on March 2, Ash Wednesday.

Issuing the appeal on Feb. 23, he underlined that the invitation extended to “everyone, believers and non-believers alike.”

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has made building relations between Catholics and Muslims one of his top priorities. In 2019, he signed a landmark document on human fraternity with Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar.

On the day that he met with Hafiz, he marked the first anniversary of his historic trip to Iraq, during which he met with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The Grand Mosque of Paris, the oldest mosque in Metropolitan France. LPLT via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Grand Mosque of Paris, which opened in 1926, is the oldest mosque in Metropolitan France. Hafiz, a Franco-Algerian lawyer, has served as the mosque’s rector since January 2020.

A 2019 survey found that 48% of France’s 67 million population identified as Catholic, 4% as Muslim, and 1% as Jewish, with 34% describing themselves as having no religion. But other studies suggest the percentage of Muslims is higher.

Hafiz reported that during the audience, the pope lamented a Feb. 5 attack by vandals on a sculpture of Emir Abdelkader in the central French town of Amboise.

The mosque rector said that the 19th-century Algerian leader had “protected the lives of the Christians of Damascus in 1860 and remains today a great symbol of religious and human fraternity.”

He added that “the Holy Father responded favorably to the invitation to visit the Grand Mosque of Paris when his visit to France is determined.”

Pope Francis made a brief visit to the eastern French city of Strasbourg in 2014 to address the European Parliament. The French government has invited him on several occasions to make a longer visit.