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Islamic prayers to be read in Vatican for first time

Pope to join Palestinian and Israeli leaders in interfaith ceremony
The planned event has caused outrage in some conservative Christian quarters (AFP)

Islamic prayers will be heard in the Vatican on Sunday, for the first time in the history of the Catholic church.

Pope Francis, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres will be joined by leaders of the three main Abrahamic faiths - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - in a symbolic ceremony to promote the cause of Middle-East peace.

Readings from the the New Testament, the Tanach and the Quran will feature at the ceremony which has been described by Holy See officials as a “pause in politics”

Peres will be travelling with Rabbi Rasson Arussi, of the Chief Rabbinate Council; Israel Prize laureate and Talmud scholar, Daniel Sperber; former chief rabbi of Ireland and interreligious adviser to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, David Rosen; spiritual Leader of the Druze faith in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif; and Sheikh Mohammad Kiwan, chairman of the Muslim community of Israel.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, will also be in attendence and will read one of the Christian prayers and take part in a private meeting with the Pope, Peres and Abbas.

The Pope extended the invitation to the Palestinian and Israeli leaders during his tour of the Holy Land in late May.

According to Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the custodian of Catholic Church property in the Holy Land, expectations should not be said too high.

"No one presumes that peace will break out in the Holy Land after this event," the Catholic New Service reported him as saying, "but this is a very important initiative to reopen this road."

"We hope this will change the peoples' attitude toward trust in a future common path," said Father Pizzaballa, the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land.

"The idea of this prayer is to reopen a path that has been closed for some time, to recreate a desire, the possibility, to dream in a certain sense" that peace is possible.

A triangular section of the gardens near the Vatican Museums has been chosen because of its "neutral" appearance, lacking in religious imagery, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

The event will be broadcast live.

Reactions on social media have ranged from approval to cynicism to apocalyptic predictions: