Leading community activists from Leeds were privileged to travel to Rome and meet with Pope Francis to spread their message of peace and unity through sport.
Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, senior Imam of Leeds’ Makkah Mosque and Ikram Butt, senior sports consultant at the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA) and ambassador for the White Ribbon Campaign met with Pope Francis and presented him with a plaque in recognition of his work in promoting peace and bringing an end to violence.
Imam Qari Asim and Ikram Butt had travelled to the Vatican following a trip to Italy last year by the British Asian Rugby Association. During the visit, the team faced off against an Italian team for the inaugural White Ribbon trophy.
Alongside the match, BARA and White Ribbon representatives held talks with the Secretary General of Lega Italian Rugby Football League (LIRFL) about interfaith dialogue and ending violence against women. Discussions were held to see how interfaith dialogue could be promoted through the platform of sport.
Imam Qari Asim expressed how he found the trip and meeting with Pope Francis to be ‘profoundly moving and humbling.’ He said,
It was a great privilege to personally meet the Pope. The Pope looked directly into my eyes; held my hand and spoke with a gentle and loving voice. Whilst shaking hands with Pope Francis, I praised him for aspiring to be a spiritual leader who is foremost a pastor to the flock, not a king, and for focusing on ordinary people, and not on religious dogma. On hearing my comments, he lowered his head slightly with humility and brought his hands together as a gesture of thanks to His Lord, which was a deeply moving moment for those of us who were fortunate enough to witness it.
Imam Qari Asim also extended an invitation to the Pope to visit Makkah Mosque and the second White Ribbon trophy match between the two hosts will be played in the UK.