- Created on 23 March 2007
The Vatican offered no comment on the Islamic leader’s failure to arrive as expected on March 22. The Italian news agency ANSA said that the visit had been cancelled because of “the imam’s commitments in Cairo.” No new date for a meeting between the Pope and the Egyptian cleric has been announced.
Plans for a visit to Rome by Sheik Tantawi had been announced by the Vatican in February, after Cardinal Paul Poupard, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, met with the Islamic leader during a visit to Cairo.
The Vatican announcement was itself the cause for some embarrassment, as Sheik Tantawi told reporters that he had neither accepted nor received an invitation to Rome. Later, however, the plans for the visit were confirmed, and the March 22 date for the meeting was set.
The visit by Sheik Tantawi was seen by Vatican officials as a major step forward in relations with Islam, after the controversty stirred by the Pope’s speech in Regensburg last year. The Egyptian cleric himself had earlier said that Pope Benedict should apologize for those remarks.
The Egyptian imam-- who heads the leading institution of higher learning in the Sunni Muslim world-- had been under heavy pressure from Egyptian Islamic scholars, and from fundamentalist leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood, to cancel his trip to Rome.