The Pope greets Mobeen Khaja and his delegation from the Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada, including several Catholics, in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 24. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Canadian Muslims given papal close-up

  • November 2, 2018

ROME – A delegation of Canadian Muslims experienced a dream come true Oct. 24 when they met Pope Francis after his weekly Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“We were so happy — all of us — when we went to the Vatican,” said Mobeen Khaja, president of the Association of Progress Muslims of Canada (APMC). “We had a reserved place for our delegation and I was told that after the ceremony the Pope would meet and talk to our group. I knew there were going to be thousands of people.

“They took our group to where the Pope was going to come to take some pictures,” said Khaja, who founded the APMC 20 years ago to promote a positive image of Muslims and values of inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity.

After being introduced to Pope Francis as the APMC’s president, “I said to him — he was holding my hand — I said to the Holy Father, it’s time to come to Canada and we will be waiting!

“He gave me a big smile. He said ‘pray for me,’ and he blessed me.

“I was very emotional and excited,” he said. “He’s very humble.

“The important thing is I wanted this opportunity not only for Muslims to meet and see him, but also many of my friends of the Catholic faith, for the opportunity for them to be there with us,” he said. “They are still thanking me.”

The APMC delegation of about 30 people included two Imams, about 15 Muslim youth who participated in an essay contest and several Catholic members of the association, which is open to all denominations of Islam and members of other faiths.

“In this troubled world we are living in, I see him, he is always defending the oppressed and the vulnerable people not only Christians but all faiths all over the world,” said Khaja. “It is remarkable a spiritual leader of the largest faith is doing these things.”

Khaja, a Sunni Muslim, emigrated to Canada 45 years ago and two years later became a citizen. “Living in Canada, you avoid conflict. Tolerance and understanding is very important to us,” said Khaja, a former accountant and retired businessman.

Yumna Siddiqi, a young lawyer based in Toronto, said the group was apprehensive as it walked up to their assigned seating in St. Peter’s Square.  

“We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It was amazing to see such a humble Pope to come up to us as a group of Muslims.

“First he included us in his speech. For a Pope to come up to us and say, ‘Pray for me.’ It was just amazing,” she said.

Siddiqi had made a pilgrimage to Mecca in August with her family, participating in the Haj, a five-day pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site. Three million Muslims gathered for the pilgrimage and for five days slept and ate in a site no larger than the Vatican, Siddiqi said.

“To come from that and then to go see His Holiness, to see and experience the similarities between ours and the Catholic faith and to experience it with people of the Catholic faith. I’ve had a very spiritual year,” she said.

Armand LaBarge, vice chair of Trent University and former chief of the York Regional Police in Ontario, is co-chair of the APMC community advisory board,

“The meeting with the Holy Father was fantastic,” he said. “It was an incredible experience for a practising Catholic, doing it in the presence of Muslim brothers and sisters.”

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