His Holiness Pope Francis received the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Imam Ahmed Al Tayyeb at the Vatican today. The meeting has considerable significance for interreligious dialogue, since it denotes the resumption of bilateral relations between the highest authority of the Catholic Church and the most important theological academic institution in Sunni Islam for the first time since 2011.
In February 2016 Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, invited Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, to visit the Vatican and to meet with the Pope.
The invitation, contained in a letter, was delivered personally to a representative of the Imam by Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and KAICIID Board Member.
Bishop Ayuso today told KAICIID: “This historic meeting between Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, a prestigious islamic institution, and Pope Francis, should give us all great hope. It is an important proof that through interreligious dialogue we can build a long-lasting culture of dialogue and peace between people of different religions and traditions. This culture of mutual respect and cooperation is needed today more than ever before. Today is a good day for dialogue and so it is a good day for the world.”
At the February meeting, the delegations talked about "the need to restart dialogue between the two institutions," according to a Vatican communique released Feb. 17.
The two sides agreed on "the importance of continuing and deepening such dialogue for the good of humanity," the communique said.
At the time, Bishop Ayuso told Fides (the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) that the Vatican delegation went to Cairo "to express the desire to resume friendly relations of cooperation, that on our behalf have never stopped, and to recall the importance of our cooperation for the common good of the entire human family."
"Religious leaders, with their collaboration, want to give an important contribution: In the moment of darkness that we are experiencing, it is important that there are converging forces, intentions and even actions in favor of the wounded humanity, which greatly needs to be healed," he said.
Al-Azhar has been a partner in several of KAICIID’s activities and programmes, including most recently a social media training for young representatives of religious communities across Egypt. Representatives from Al-Azhar have also participated in a number of KAICIID conferences, including the landmark meeting in November 2014 on the safeguarding of common citizenship in the Middle East. The Holy See is a founding observer in KAICIID, and the Vatican is represented on the KAICIID Board of Directors by Bishop Ayuso.