From Tuesday, January 30 to Thursday, February 1, 2024, the Order of Friars Minor Conventual hosted the delegation from the Hawzah Ilmiyyah (Islamic Seminaries) in Qom, Iran, at the Sacred Convent in Assisi.
The history of our relationship began almost two years ago, with a meeting that took place in Qom, the holy city of Shiite Islam in Iran. One of our confreres, the Most Reverend Dominique Mathieu, OFM Conv., Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tehran-Ispahan of the Latins, was visiting Qom and met with the Most Reverend Ayatollah Alireza Arafi, President of the Hawzah Ilmiyyah (Islamic Seminaries) in Iran. On that occasion, Archbishop Mathieu, on learning that the Ayatollah was about to travel to Italy to meet Pope Francis, invited him to visit our centers in Italy as well – especially Assisi.
Pope Francis and Ayatollah Arafi met on May 30, 2022. The same day, the delegation from Iran also visited our General Curia at the Friary of the Twelve Holy Apostles. However, due to lack of time, the visit to Assisi was not possible. Instead, it was finally realized in early 2024.
The delegation from Qom consisted of Ayatollah Sheikh Mohsen Faghih Habibi, an authoritative professor of advanced Islamic studies; Ayatollah Sheikh Hossein Rahimian Movahhed, Head of the Secretariat of the Supreme Council of Iranian Seminaries; Dr. Seyed Mofid Hosseini Kouhsari, Vice President of Communications and International Affairs of the Iranian Seminaries; Sheikh Mohammad Sadegh Amin Din, Director of the Office of Religions and Denominations of the Iranian Seminaries; and Sheikh Hossein Molla Nouri, Delegate of Cultural and Religious Affairs of the Iranian Seminaries.
In the morning hours of January 30, 2024, Friars Silvestro Bejan, Tomasz Szymczak, and Andre Marie waited at Rome’s Fiumicino airport where they welcomed the delegation on its arrival. After making the trip to Assisi and receiving accommodations at the Sacred Convent, the delegation was then given a guided tour in the afternoon, which included the Sacred Convent, the Upper and Lower Basilicas, and the Tomb of St. Francis.
The next day, they visited the town of Assisi, making stops at the International Franciscan Center for Dialogue (CEFID), the Basilica of St. Clare, and the tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis. Early that afternoon, they received an exquisite welcome from the Mayor of Assisi, Stefania Proietti. Later in the afternoon, they met in the Chapter Hall of the Sacred Convent to discuss a number of topics, including the story of the encounter between Francis and the Sultan and the concept of poverty and justice in Shiite Islam. Our novices were also present and participated by asking the guests various questions. In the evening, a smaller group met to continue the second part of the discussion, this time on much more concrete issues and real and current problems.
On Thursday morning, the delegation visited the library of the Sacred Convent under the excellent guidance of Friar Carlo Bottero. At the end of lunch, the Custos of the Sacred Convent, Friar Marco Moroni, said farewell to the members of the delegation. Gifts were then exchanged, which included a beautiful Persian carpet! Finally, the entire community of the Sacred Convent spontaneously sang the simple Salve Sancte Pater hymn as a prayer to plead for peace in the world and to invoke St. Francis’ intercession for the delegation and for Iran itself.
At the end of December, 2024, Pope Francis asked the members of our Order to be men who build bridges of peace. Our hosting the delegation from Iran at the Sacred Convent was perhaps one of the strongest and most concrete ways we could respond to the pope’s invitation at this time in history.
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