The meeting focused “on the shared commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for peace in the world, the rejection of violence and terrorism, the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East and their protection" .
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The phrase "the meeting is the message" pronounced by the Pope and a hug are the culmination of today's visit to the Vatican of the grand imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyib. The two men spoke for almost 30 minutes, said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, "principally on the shared commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for peace in the world, the rejection of violence and terrorism, the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East and their protection ".
The conversation between the Pope and the man who is considered the leading Sunni Muslim authority was described as "very cordial" and "the two authoritative interlocutors have pointed out the great significance of this new meeting in the framework of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam" . Even a statement issued by Al-Azhar in Egypt said that the meeting aims at spreading the culture of dialogue, coexistence and peace among peoples and societies.
The account given by Father Lombardi noted the importance of the delegation that accompanied the great imam, which included, "Prof. Abbas Shouman, Undersecretary of Al-Azhar; Prof. Mahmaoud Hamdi Zakzouk, member of the Council of Senior Scholars of the University of Al-Azhar University and Director of the Center for Dialogue of Al-Azhar; Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, Director of the Great Imam; Prof. Mohie Afifi Afifi Ahmed, General Secretary of the Academy for Islamic Research; Ambassador Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, Diplomatic Advisor to the Grand Imam; Mr. Tamer Tawfik, Director; and Mr Ahmad Alshourbagy, Second Secretary. The delegation was accompanied by the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, H.E. Hatem Seif Elnasr ".
"The Grand Imam was welcomed and accompanied to meet with the Holy Father by the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, and secretary of the same dicastery, S.E. Msgr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot ".
The Pope gifted the Grand Imam a Medallion of the olive peace - which is a rock split in two from which an olive tree sprouts - and a copy of his encyclical Laudato Sì'.
After the audience with Francis, before leaving the Apostolic Palace, the Great Imam, with his delegation, also met briefly with Card. Tauran and the delegation of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
To prepare for today's meeting a Vatican delegation visited Cairo in mid-February. Relations between the Vatican and Al-Azhar were suspended after the events of December 31, 2010, when there were a series of attacks against Coptic churches, which caused thirty deaths. On that occasion Benedict XVI had asked the Egyptian authorities to take the necessary steps to prevent anti-Christian discrimination anda repetition of such acts, which Al-Azhar had seen as an insult to Islam and suspended relations.
Since then, the last visit of a representative of Al-Azhar to the Vatican took place in March 2014 with participation in an inter-religious conference to promote cooperation in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking.