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Francis to hold unprecedented meeting with top Sunni Muslim leader

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, will be received at the Vatican on Monday (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

Pope Francis will receive the highest authority in Sunni Islam in an unprecedented meeting at the Vatican on Monday.

The meeting between Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, Cairo, and Pope Francis was revealed by Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi.

Fr Lombardi said: “This audience is being prepared and has been scheduled for Monday. It will be a first.”

Al-Tayeb suspended dialogue with the Holy See on behalf of Al-Azhar University in 2011. Benedict XVI had called for the protection of Christian minorities following a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria which was perceived as interfering in Egypt’s affairs.

But things have improved since Francis’s election, with a representative of the Al-Azhar mosque, Mahmoud Azab, participating in an inter-faith conference at the Vatican in March 2014.

“The dialogue was never cut, it was just suspended,” Azab said at the time, adding that the idea was not “dialogue for its own sake. There has to be a clear agenda.”