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Pope Francis welcomes Sunni Muslim leader to Vatican

Pope Francis held a private audience with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim centre

Pope Francis embraced the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim centre of learning, five years after Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib suspended dialogue with the Holy See.

As Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib arrived for his audience in the Apostolic Palace, Francis said that the fact that they were meeting at all was significant.

“The meeting is the message,” Francis told the imam.

The meeting came five years after the Cairo-based Al-Azhar froze talks with the Vatican to protest comments by then-Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties, with a Vatican delegation visiting Cairo in February and extending the invitation for el-Tayyib to visit.

Francis and el-Tayyib spoke privately for 25 minutes in the Pope’s private library, bidding each other farewell with an embrace. El-Tayyib and his delegation then had talks with the Vatican cardinal in charge of interreligious dialogue.

The Vatican said the meeting held a “great significance” for Catholic-Muslim dialogue. In a statement, spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said Francis and el-Tayyib discussed the need for “authorities and the faithful of the world’s great religions to show a common commitment to peace in the world.”

They also discussed the rejection of violence and extremism, and the plight of Christians “in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Mideast and their protection,” the statement said.

After the audience, el-Tayyib travels to Paris to open a Muslim-Catholic conference on East-West relations.

El-Tayyib sent a message of congratulations to Francis upon his 2013 election and said he hoped for renewed cooperation. Francis responded, and has made clear over the course of his three-year pontificate that relations with Islam are a top priority.

In a recent interview with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Francis took a conciliatory line toward Islam, saying “I sometimes dread the tone” when people refer to Europe’s “Christian” roots.

“It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam,” he said. But he added that Christianity, too, had its “triumphalist” undertones. “It is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.”

He added that when looking to the causes of Islamic extremism, it is better to “question ourselves about the way in an overly Western model of democracy has been exported.”



  1. Elaine Patt Reply

    When Jesus sent his apostles out to evangelize…did they loot and kill and do all sorts of demeaning atrocities. There was not a hint of ‘conquest’.
    I deny any such actions or any terroristic activities. MAKING SUCH A COMPARISON IS A LIE AND HAS NO BASIS IN ANY Scriptual FACT. When faced with failure to cast out a demon…Jesus said , these kind need special prayer..not any violence.
    Forgive us Lord
    Forgive us Mary, our Mother

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Just yesterday it was announced that Cardinal Kurt Koch, who leads ecumenical relations for the Vatican said that Christians have a mission to convert all Muslims. I’m doubt that the high ranking Muslims meeting with the Pope were pleased to hear those “in your face” remarks from the Pope’s aide, while the Pope was schmoozing with them. Pretty poor timing from a diplomatic standpoint. The Vatican appears to be out of control with all the scandals and financial mishaps. Hard to tell if anyone is actually in charge.
    Muslims obviously aren’t going to fall in line without being forced to convert, any more than Christians will fall in line to Islam without being forced. Hence, the only thing we can reliably expect from the Abrahamic religions is force; violence, hatred, and mistrust. We can have religion, or we can have peace, but it’s pretty evident that we can’t have both at the same time. The Abrahamic god has no interest in peace. His book makes that pretty clear, so I guess we settle in for endless hostility. That seems to be what Bible God and Jesus want – lots of hostility. Hostile to Muslims, hostile to Buddhists, hostile to non-believers, hostile to gays, hostile to transgenders, hostile to women wanting to control their own bodies, hostile to women wanting equality with men; it’s just one hostile thing after the other. It never seems to end. All that ‘love your enemy,’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ stuff – that’s just nonsense talk, isn’t it?

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