Pope Francis and Sunni Muslim imam get-together

Pope Francis and Sunni Muslim imam of Al-Azhar will begin talks again next year.

The talks stopped five years ago. It is expected they will begin again in Rome next April.

Officials from the Vatican’s office of inter-religious affairs are going to Cairo this weekend for a preparatory meeting.

Their aim is to lay the groundwork for the official restart of talks.

The Vatican announcement came after Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, met at the Vatican in May and embraced.

The meeting, which was requested by the pontifical council following the Pope’s “expressed desire, will evaluate how to begin the resumption of dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and al-Azhar University,”.

The meeting marked a turning point after Al-Azhar froze talks with the Vatican in 2011 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.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution.

Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

After the papal meeting in May, el-Tayeb told Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper that his impression of Pope Francis was that “this man is a man of peace, a man who follows the teaching of Christianity, which is a religion of love and peace,” and “a man who respects other religions and shows consideration for their followers.”





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