VATICAN CITY: A group of French imams attended a general audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday, saying they saw the Catholic leader as a figure of reconciliation.
“We feel something strong with this pope. We, the minorities, need him,” Hassen Chalghoumi, a Tunisian imam in Drancy, a suburb of Paris, told AFP.
“Moderates should be supported. We should not be grouped with extremists who burn churches,” he said.
The visit was organized by Marek Halter, a French writer of Polish Jewish origin, who briefly met with the pope during the audience in St Peter’s Square.
There were a total of eight imams — seven from Paris and suburbs and one from Marseille. Chalghoumi said they were all “Sufis” — a moderate current in Islam.
Tunisian cinema and television tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar brought the imams on his private plane and said the visit would boost inter-religious dialogue.
“We have a problem to resolve ourselves. Christians had this in the middle Ages. Political Islam is winning the upper hand,” Ben Ammar said.
Halter said that Francis “can do what Benedict XVI never managed to do: reconcile Christianity and Islam”.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI both made overtures to the Muslim world but Benedict was widely criticized for appearing to link Islam and violence in a speech in Germany shortly after being elected in 2006.