A group of French imams attended a general audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday, saying they saw the Catholic leader as a figure of reconciliation.
"We feel something strong with this pope. We the minorities need him,"
Hassen Chalghoumi, a Tunisian imam in Drancy, a suburb of Paris, told
"Moderates should be supported. We should not be grouped with extremists who burn churches," he said.
The visit was organised by Marek Halter, a French writer of Polish
Jewish origin, who briefly met with the pope during the audience in St
There were a total of eight imams -- seven from Paris and suburbs and
one from Marseille. Chalghoumi said they were all "sufis" -- a moderate
current in Islam.
Tunisian cinema and television tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar brought the imams
on his private plane and said the visit would boost inter-religious
"We have a problem to resolve ourselves. Christians had this in the
Middle Ages. Political Islam is winning the upper hand," Ben Ammar said.
Halter said that Francis "can do what Benedict XVI never managed to do: reconcile Christianity and Islam".
John Paul II and Benedict XVI both made overtures to the Muslim world
but Benedict was widely criticised for appearing to link Islam and
violence in a speech in Germany shortly after being elected in 2006.