Corey Charlton for Daily Mail Online reports: Pope Francis embraced the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the prestigious Sunni Muslim center of learning, in a historic bid to reopen dialogue between the two churches.
At a time of increased Islamic extremist attacks on Christians, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib was photographed hugging Francis during a visit to the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican.
Reopening channels for communication after a five-year lull, Francis described the meeting as hugely significant.
The meeting that comes amidst increasing Islamic extremist attacks on Christians, especially in the Middle East is considered significantly meaningful considering the fact that the relations between the two religions had been frozen over the years. The Pope assumed that the two churches should demonstrate a joint commitment to establish global peace.
Since then-Pope Benedict demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, the Cairo-based Al-Azhar froze talks with the Vatican. After that, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to warm their relations.
Francis responded and has made clear over the course of his three-year pontificate that relations with Islam are a top priority.
In a recent interview with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Francis took a conciliatory line toward Islam, saying 'I sometimes dread the tone' when people refer to Europe's 'Christian' roots.
'It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam,' he said.
But he added that Christianity, too, had its 'triumphalist' undertones. 'It is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.'
He added that when searching for the causes of Islamic extremism, it is better to 'question ourselves about the way in an overly Western model of democracy has been exported.'
By Stefan Paraber for GIA.