Religious Leaders

Building Bridges: An Ahmadiyya Imam Conveys His Holiness’ Message to Pope Francis

Imam Marwan and the delegation speaking to His Holiness Pope Francis in his office.

Marwan Gill, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Ever since I arrived as a an Imam of our Community in Argentina, I could perceive the love and affection of the people here towards Pope Francis. The election of Jorge Bergoglio in 2013 as Pope was a historic moment for Argentinians, since, in the Church’s 2000 years history, he was the first South American Pope to be elected. Many Argentinians feel they can identify with him, because – despite occupying the highest rank in the Catholic world – he still is very accessible for common people and maintains a very humble and austere lifestyle. I have myself heard the testimonies of various people who proudly told me how they used to exchange some words with him (when he was the Cardinal of Buenos Aires) whilst travelling by public transport. Others told me that they have received a personal letter or relic sent by him from the Vatican. On the other hand, followers of other religions admire him for his commitment towards interfaith harmony. In short, in the last few years I had heard so many positive things about him that I had also developed a certain respect for him.

From left to right: Imam Ataul Waseh Tariq, Rabbi Saul Bonino, His Holiness Pope Francis, Imam Marwan Gill, Miguel Steuermann

Every week, I take part in a radio show, called “Shalom Salam – Jewish Muslim dialogue” where we discuss different topics in regard to the teachings of our religions. It has become a bit of a tradition now to continue our interfaith conversations in a nearby coffee shop after the radio show. 

To my complete surprise, my Jewish friend told me that the Vatican had invited us to meet the Pope because of our inter-religious activities. My instant reaction was to worry whether I could do justice to the task – given the fact that it would be the first time that a representative of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community would meet Pope Francis in a private audience. At the same time, my thoughts started to circulate around all the different instructions and advice I had received over the years from the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). One particular moment which was racing through my mind was when His Holiness (aba) guided me to pray to Allah for His help, and to always speak with confidence about the beautiful teachings of Islam.

Enclosed is the letter of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) to His Holiness Pope Francis

Hence, keeping this guidance in mind I prepared myself mentally for this historic audience which took place on the 5th September 2022 in the Pope’s office at the Vatican. As soon as I entered the room, I noticed the big smile on his face which I perceived as an expression of his kindness and generosity. After our initial introduction, he asked me if I was Argentinian – probably because of my Spanish accent. I told him about my background and that I learnt Spanish in Argentina. He then asked me why we had never met before in Buenos Aires to which I replied that I was assigned as a missionary to Argentina after he had already been elected as Pope. Hereafter, the conversation continued in a very dynamic and personal manner. After introducing the mission and the claim of the Promised Messiah (as) (the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community), I shared with him some of our initiatives to promote peace and universal brotherhood. He was particularly very pleased about our interfaith activities which we carry out with the Jewish representatives in Buenos Aires, who were also present in the meeting. He appreciated our efforts – especially our slogan “Love for all, Hatred for none” – and remarked that interfaith dialogue is very necessary nowadays where there is so much hate and aggression in our societies. Confidentially, he shared some of his personal experiences and gave an insight about his book “Fratelli Tutti” (We all are brothers) in which he has elaborated in detail the importance of interfaith relations.

I then shared some of my personal impressions about the book and highlighted that as a Muslim I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found many common values between our religions. I gave him the book “World Crisis and the pathway to peace”, which includes the different speeches of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) about global justice and peace.

A very nice glimpse of our interfaith conversation was when I presented him the Holy Qur’an as a gift and introduced to him chapter 19, which is very relevant for Catholics as the entire chapter is dedicated to Mary (as), mother of Jesus (as). The Pope mentioned to us that once during a visit to a Muslim country, he was astonished when he was invited to a mosque which was called “Mary” (Mariam in Arabic). I further informed him that Mary (as) holds great importance for Muslims as she is presented as a role model for all believers due to her chastity and loyalty towards God Almighty.

Nevertheless, the most auspicious moment of the audience for me was when I delivered him the personal letter that His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) had written to him. This letter was a crystal-clear example that His Holiness (aba) leaves no stone unturned to promote interfaith brotherhood and harmony. The Pope highly valued this gesture of His Holiness Hazrat Masroor Ahmad (aba) and as response also dedicated his book “Fratelli Tutti” with the following words to His Holiness: “To Mirza Masroor Ahmad with brotherly affect. Francis”.

His Holiness Pope Francis’ hand-written
message in his book gifted to the Head
of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim

Afterwards, the Pope gave each one of us a souvenir of the Vatican as acknowledgement of our commitment towards interfaith relations. Hereafter, the conversation carried on in a more informal and light spirit about a range of topics, with some glimpses of Argentinian humour. Also, given the fact that we belong to the land of Maradona and Messi, it was inevitable that we would exchange our opinions about football as well.

After almost 40 minutes the audience concluded and though I requested the Pope many times not to stand up but simply see us off from his desk, he insisted on accompanying us all the way to the exit. I must confess that I felt very uncomfortable about that because – albeit the distance is just few meters – for a person who usually uses a wheelchair, it requires a great deal of effort. However, whilst seeing us off he repeated many times that he was very pleased about our meeting.  

In conclusion, it was an extraordinary experience for me, and I feel privileged for having had the opportunity to serve as the bridge of communication between both religious leaders: His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) and Pope Francis.    

However, my conscience won’t permit me to write this article without highlighting my special gratitude towards my spiritual father and mentor. Even though I was not worthy of this enormous task, His Holiness (aba) not only trusted me, but accompanied me at every step with his prayers and guidance. Just prior to my audience with the Pope, I had the honour of seeking advice from him in which he underlined the importance of interfaith harmony, by referring to the Holy Qur’an, chapter 3, verse 65, emphasising that as Muslims it is our responsibility to build interfaith bridges by seeking common values which unite us all as Jews, Christians, Muslims or followers of any other religion. Hence, all my personal efforts in Argentina to promote the interfaith relations are in reality a small reflection of the divine task which His Holiness (aba) is carrying out around the globe as the ambassador of peace.

About the Author: Marwan Gill is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Theology and Modern Languages UK, and currently serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina. He also serves as the South American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.

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