Spreading hope with the Pope
A pair of community activists from Leeds ventured over the sea to Rome to meet one of the world’s most powerful religious figures last weekend as faith, religion and sport came together in harmony at the Vatican.
Imam at the Makkah Masjid, Qari Asim, and White Ribbon Sports Ambassador, Ikram Butt, travelled to meet with Pope Francis to pass on their message of unity all the way from Leeds.
The duo were able to speak with his holiness, Pope Francis, where they presented him with a plaque in recognition of his work in promoting peace and bringing an end to violence.
Qari Asim described the trip as ‘profoundly humbling’.
“It was a great privilege to personally meet the Pope,” he said. “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.”
The visit to the Vatican was organised following a trip to Italy last year by the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA), of which Ikram is the founder.
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), Pierluigi Gentile, about interfaith dialogue and ending violence against women.
Discussions were held to see how interfaith dialogue could be promoted through the platform of sport.
Ikram said: “We owe a lot of thanks to Pierluigi and the whole LIRFL team who will be coming to Leeds in May as we reciprocate the visit.
“Qari Asim has extended an invitation to the Makkah mosque and we will play out the second White Ribbon trophy, which is to become an annual fixture.”
On meeting the Pope, he added: “You remember every small detail when something like that happens.
“I was honoured to shake his holiness’ hand. I remember not taking my hand away and neither did he. We were talking and holding hands and I just thought…this guy is amazing.
“I spoke with him about BARA, White Ribbon and interfaith dialogue, and his words were ‘bless you, keep doing the great work you are doing, you have my full support’.
“I came away knowing that we certainly have his blessing.”