The Pope’s meeting with Sunni leader at the Vatican is a huge step.
Pope Francis took a large step in healing relations between the Vatican and the highest Islamic authority in Egypt on Monday. The pontiff met with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, in an attempt to reopen the lines of communication that have been down since 2011, reports The Huffington Post.
Representatives of Al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old Sunni Muslim learning community, have said that Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, repeatedly insulted Islam, which strained relations between the influential religious groups to the point of a five-year drought in conversation. Benedict’s notion that Islam practiced “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target” was the comment that seemed to end relations back in 2011.
It has been the goal of Pope Francis to improve communication between the different faiths of the world since his election in 2013. “The message is the meeting,” he said.
And the meeting is quite important, given that 22 percent of the world’s population is Muslim, 85 percent of which are Sunni. Al-Azhar provides for thousands of imams each year, the most of any Islamic institution in the world. Further, it is the first time any sheik of Al-Azhar has ever visited the pope at the Vatican.
The half-hour meeting was “very cordial,” according to Sojourners Magazine. The two, speaking through a translator, discussed world peace, violence, terrorism and the plight of Christians in the Middle East, a topic Pope Francis has brought up on many occasions.
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Recently, the Holy See has called for an end to violence against Christians in the Middle East, but was also quick to point out that Islam should not be equated with violence.
The two groups represent more than a third of the world’s population, as the Vatican represents 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and Sunni Islam has 1.3 billion followers. Also, the Al-Azhar University has more than 450,000 students from across Asia and Africa, as well as a network of 9,000 schools across Egypt with approximately 2 million students.