By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Judge Mohamed Abdel Salam “witnessed the whole journey” undertaken by Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb that is now an “immortal humanitarian story”. In Rome last week, Judge Abdel Salam presented his recently-published book in Arabic entitled The Pope and the Grand Imam: A Thorny Path. In it, he chronicles their journey that unfolded before him.
Judge Abdel Salam stopped by the Vatican News studios on Saturday afternoon. He spoke with us about his book and his impressions of the Pope’s latest efforts in Iraq to advance human fraternity.
The Judge currently serves as the Secretary General of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, whose goal is to implement the historic Document signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam. He said he met with Pope Francis on 8 April, along with two other Committee members, Cardinal Miguel Ayuso and Msgr Yoannis Gaid. Together they presented “some initiatives and some ideas for future projects”. The Judge said the Pope’s feedback was positive.
His new book
“I was also extremely honored to have the chance to present my newly-published book on the journey of human fraternity”, the Judge recounted. The Judge characterizes the journey made between the Pope and the Gran Imam as “immortal”, one “that history will record and will never be forgotten.” The journey, the Judge says, is “very inspiring” because it involves two religious leaders from which people of all religions and any age can draw “lessons and benefits”. This is what motivated the Judge to “write down every single detail” as an eyewitness to every “event and step” on that journey.
“I was deeply touched when I followed this course with them”, the Judge related. This journey began in the Vatican when, on 23 May 2016, the Grand Imam came to visit his “brother”. Pope Francis reciprocated that visit when he went to Egypt in late April 2017. The Grand Imam then visited the Pope in the Vatican over and over again until the two “met together in their joint summit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates”.
The Judge expressed how he felt obliged in conscience to recount for the “world and the next generations” what he witnessed – all the “details” of this “historic and unique journey and the relationship between these two great religious figures”. He also hopes that people will “recognize the challenges and difficulties that by virtue of their boldness”, these two leaders overcame “to achieve great goals”. It also demonstrates a “practical model”, he said, that everyone can follow. The Judge further explained that the book is the result of “everything I had recorded in my diaries and my notes”.
Pope: champion of human fraternity
Commenting on the Pope’s recent visit to Iraq, in which he took further steps along the journey of human fraternity, the Judge said that visit was one that was desperately needed in terms of human fraternity. Once again, the Judge highlighted the fact that Pope Francis overcame great challenges in order to make that visit: Covid-19, security concerns, the tremendous pain and suffering of the local populations in the aftermath of conflict. This is a great lesson to learn regarding human fraternity.
This path is none other than the achievement of international peace, the Judge continued. It is wrought with “difficulties, challenges and obstacles”, he admitted. And, “it really needs champions who can overcome all of these”. The Grand Imam also acknowledged the “bold step” Pope Francis was taking with the tweet he published prior to his trip to Iraq.
Pope’s one goal is peace
Judge Abdel Salam sees the Pope’s meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani as a “very important step on the path towards human fraternity”. It is a new “[link] in the chain of human fraternity that is shaped and formed day by day.” Pope Francis’s desire to help Iraq achieve unity, confirms, the Judge said, “that the Pope only sees one goal which is peace”. Meeting with Al-Sistani is a “call for hope for peaceful coexistence and sustainable peace in Iraq, in the Middle East Region and in the whole world”.
Christians, the Judge said, are not minorities in the region. As members of the populations in which they live, they are “full citizens”, with the same rights and duties as everyone else. That everyone “should be respected and mutually loved” is the core message both the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar know is necessary to achieve peace throughout the world.