According to reports, Pope Francis is to attend meetings of the UAE’s Muslim Council of Elders (MCE), an independent organization set up in July 2014 to promote inclusivity, peace, and nonviolence amongst different religious faiths across the region.
Members of the MCE have extended an invitation to the Pope to participate in a series of dialogues addressing the unifying features of both religions and what can be done to bridge the gap between believers of different faiths.
While a date has yet to be set for the round of talks, they will most likely be held in Cairo or closer to the Pope’s residence at the Vatican this year.
The announcement of the Pope’s commitment to encouraging and strengthening interfaith dialogue comes just as he welcomed a prominent Islamic representative to the Vatican last month. Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand Imam of Al-Azhar, one of the most influential Islamic religious personalities and head of the MCE, was hosted by the Pope at the Vatican on May 23rd.
Hailed by many as
a historic coming together of “two of the world’s most influential religions,”
the visit saw the two leaders speaking at length about their mutual commitment to peace and nonviolence amidst growing inter-religious tensions in the wake of recent acts of terror and escalating conflicts in the Middle East.
Reports note that Sheikh El-Tayeb was the “first al-Azhar imam to visit the Vatican,” neutralizing the previously sour relationship between Francis’s predecessor and the Islamic community when comments made by the former Pope during a speech were deemed offensive to Muslims.
The Sheikh was awarded a medal of peace and invited to the Pope’s office to speak with him privately in a rare break from tradition. As the chairman of the MCE, Dr. Ali Al Nuaimi noted: “Usually the pope does not receive any guest in his office on his own. He always has the cardinal and other officials seated on the side.”
The visit demonstrates that encouraging inter-religious harmony has become a defining feature of the Pope’s campaign. Earlier this year, Pope Francis released his first monthly ‘prayer intentions’ video featuring representatives from several faiths, including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam.
In the video, he spoke of the unifying features that all religions share, noting that
“many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: we are all children of God.”
His reaffirmed commitment to interfaith relations and world peace comes at a critical time when acts of violence taking place across the world can prompt either hatred or unity between those of different faiths and beliefs.
Pope Francis concluded his January 7th video address by requesting viewers to “spread my prayer request this month: that sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce fruits of peace and justice.”