CAIRO: Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, will head for the Vatican Monday for an unprecedented papal audience with Pope Francis; signaling a new step in Catholic-Muslim relations, Youm7 reported.
The long-awaited meeting, which was first discussed in February this year, is seen as a “thawing of relations after years of frozen ties” between the highest authority in Sunni Islam and the Holy See, Undersecretary of Al-Azhar, Abbas Shouman was quoted by Al Ahram Monday.
The visit will have a positive impact and will improve relations between the two faiths after tensions during the time of Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, said Shouman.
In January 2011 Pope Benedict XVI condemned a car bomb explosion in January 2011 outside a Coptic Christian church in Egypt’s Alexandria which killed at least 21 people.
Relations became strained when Pope Benedict XVI then urged Christian communities to persevere a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target,” according to Reuters.
The statement was seen by several Egyptian officials and clergymen as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
During the Monday papal audience, Tayeb will deliver a speech on ways to advocate the values, teachings, nature and tolerance of Islam, as well as the peaceful coexistence of Islam and Catholicism, according to Youm7.
The visit comes in response to an invitation by a Vatican delegation, headed by Bishop Miguel Àngel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who visited Al-Azhar University in February.
Relations between Al-Azhar and the Vatican have improved since Pope Francis was elected in 2013 when he congratulated Muslims on the occasion of Eid al Fitr.