Manama: Pope Francis met Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque on Friday during a visit to Bahrain.
The meeting is part of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence at Al-Fida' Square of Sakhir Royal Palace.
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa welcomed the Pope and Dr Al Tayeb in a speech following which Dr Tayeb and the Pope addressed the gathering at Al-Fida' Square.
The pontiff landed in Bahrain on Thursday afternoon for the four-day trip.
The Pope, who has been using a wheelchair for several months because of strained knee ligaments, said he was "in a lot of pain'' as he flew in for his second Gulf visit. For the first time, he greeted journalists travelling with him seated rather than walking through the plane's aisle.
Bahrain is home to the first Catholic church to be built in the region in modern times, which opened in 1939, as well as the cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, the largest Catholic church on the Arabian Peninsula. Reuters reported that the country has a community of about 160,000 Catholics - made up mostly of foreign workers.
Pope at Sakhir Palace
On Thursday, Pope Francis spoke at the Sakhir Palace alongside King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. From the stage, the 85-year-old pope, suffering from knee pain, was led in a wheelchair to the entrance of the courtyard with the king walking alongside. The pope rose and the two embraced before the pontiff got into a white Fiat 500 with Vatican plates.
King Hamad, in his speech, said his country protected the freedom of all faiths to "perform their rituals and establish their places of worship". Bahrain seeks to strengthen "our common purpose towards a world in which tolerance prevails while striving for peace, and rejects whatever divides its unity and threatens its civilisational development", he said.
The pontiff's 39th international trip since taking office comes three years after he signed a 'Human Fraternity document, called ‘Abu Dhabi Declaration’, in the UAE. The document was signed, during the 2019 papal visit, by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
The Argentine has placed inter-faith dialogue at the heart of his papacy, visiting other Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Iraq.
The visit to Bahrain, where he will also attend a forum with the Abu Dhabi-based Muslim Council of Elders, is no exception.
Pope Francis, after being lowered from the plane in his wheelchair on an electric platform, received an enthusiastic welcome on Thursday.
Uniformed guards on horseback, along with Vatican and Bahrain flags, lined the route of his short journey to the gleaming, white-marble palace, where he was greeted by cheering children.
As well as attending the forum and meeting the grand imam, the pope will also hold prayers in the Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, the biggest Catholic church in the Arabian peninsula, followed by an open-air mass on Saturday.
- Inputs from AFP