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Pope Francis, Sheikh Tayyib for warmer relations

Nevine Gadallah

24 May 2016 10:34 am

The afternoon of Monday 23 May saw Pope Francis receive Sheikh Ahmad al-

Tayyib, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, and a delegation of al-Azhar sheikhs, at the

Vatican Apostolic Palace.

The visit comes after some five years of ‘frozen’ relations between the Vatican and

al-Azhar, the Cairo-based Islamic institution which goes back to the 10th century

and which is today the world’s topmost authority on Sunni Islam. Relations

between the Vatican and al-Azhar had soured after the retired Pope Benedict XVI

made a speech in which he linked Islam to violence, which offended Muslims at

large and drove al-Azhar to adopt a hostile stance towards Rome.

Pope Francis, who took office in 2013, made several attempts at rapprochement.

Last November he sent an invitation to Sheikh Tayyib to visit the Vatican, in an

attempt to revive the interrupted relations between the two institutions.

When asked by reporters Monday about their message to the world, a cheerful

Pope Francis briefly said: “Our meeting is the message.”

During their 30-minute meeting which was described as ‘cordial’ despite the

sombre-looking Sheikh Tayyib, Pope Francis and Sheikh Tayyib discussed

problems relating to violence and terrorism, as well as the predicament of

Christians in the Middle East, in addition to how the Catholic Church and al-Azhar

could contribute to world peace.

Pope Francis presented Sheikh Tayyib with the Year of Mercy medal which

features an olive branch as the symbol of peace, as well as copies of his

environmental encyclical LaudatoSi’. There was talk about organising a global

peace conference sponsored by the two major religious institutions.

Watani International

24 May 2016

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