CAIRO: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Pope Francis agreed Monday to resume religious dialogue between the Vatican and Al-Azhar, after a more than three-year hiatus.
Dialogue between the two religious institutions was suspended in 2011 after the former Roman Catholic Pope, Benedict XVI, called for protection of Coptic Christians in Egypt following a bomb attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on Dec. 31, 2010. The attack killed 23 people and injured more than 90 others.
Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb said in a press conference Jan. 02, 2011 that Pope Benedict’s remarks were “unacceptable,” saying, “I disagree with the Pope in this matter, why does he not ask for protecting Muslims when they are killed in Iraq?”
President Sisi and a delegation including representatives from Al-Azhar visited Vatican City upon an invitation from the Pope, who met with them, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian Presidential office Monday evening.
“Mr. President held a closed session of talks with Pope Francis characterized by affection and understanding, through which the Pope expressed his conviction tolerance of Islam and noble values, stressing that the practices carried out by some extremist organizations do not represent at all the values and principles of this religion,” presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef said in the statement.
“His holiness called for the resumption of dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican via reactivating the Joint Dialogue Commission with Al-Azhar,” Youssef added.
Sisi also met with Vatican Secretary Pietro Barawlin, who praised the role of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution, which guarantees freedoms and rights, Youssef continued.
In 2006, dialogue between the two institutions was halted after Pope Benedict XVI criticized Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in a lecture he gave at Germany’s University of Regensburg. Pope Benedict said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
The Pope later apologized for the remarks.