.- If a prominent imam is right, Pope Francis will visit Assisi Sept. 19 for a major international interreligious meeting.
Mohamed Abdel Qader, the Imam of Perugia and Umbria – the Italian region that is home to Assisi – raised the possibility last week in an interview with the Italian Bishops Conference’s television TV2000.
Imam Qader was in Assisi when Pope Francis visited to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the “perdono” indulgence. This plenary indulgence, established in 1216 under Pope Honorius III, is given to everyone who goes to Assisi, goes to confession, receives Holy Communion and prays according the Pope’s intentions on the days of Aug. 1-2 each year.
The imam attended the Aug. 4 ceremony at the St. Mary of the Angels Basilica in Assisi. He exchanged a quick greeting with Pope Francis before he left.
The unscheduled meeting came only three days after Muslim leaders all over Europe made the decision to take part in Catholic Masses on Sunday, as a sign of solidarity with the Catholic Church. The move was a rejection of the barbaric murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, the French priest killed by Islamist extremists at the end of Mass in a church in the area of Rouen, France.
Imam Qader told TV2000 that there will be a papal visit to Assisi for peace Sept. 19-20.
“I and many other representatives of the national and international Muslim community will go and greet the Pope,” the imam said.
At present, the Vatican has not officially confirmed papal participation in the meeting of Assisi.
The meeting falls on the 30th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace that St. John Paul II convoked in Assisi 1986.
St. John Paul II went back to Assisi for successive events 1993 and 2002. The last day of prayer led by a Pope was convoked by Benedict XVI in 2011, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first historic meeting in Assisi.
However, the Sant’Egidio community has organized an interreligious meeting every year since 1986, held at different locations.
This year, the event will once again take place in Assisi. Father Mauro Galimberti, custodian of the Sacred Convent of Assisi, said that the Franciscan friars will join the Sant’Egidio community and the diocese to “open wide the doors for a new meeting among the world leaders of religion.”
The event, the custodian said, will be “a choral prayer.”
“Together, we will ask ourselves: what are the principles acknowledged by all the religions for peaceful coexistence? What contribution to politics, science and culture in general can we propose to draft a decalogue of human coexistence?”
This interreligious dialogue effort is part of other efforts to advance a “culture of encounter” which the Pope has prized during his pontificate.
Other noteworthy events are also taking place in Catholic-Muslim dialogue. Relations have been re-established with Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the most important institutions of Sunni Islam.
Ahmed al-Tayab, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican May 23.
Pope Francis is also expected to visit the Mosque of Rome. The invitation was personally forwarded to Pope Francis by an Islamic delegation Jan. 20, in a short 10-minute meeting in a small hall of Paul VI Hall ahead of the Pope’s general audience.
Though the delegation said the Pope accepted the invitation, at present no date for the visit has been set.