The Vatican and the prestigious Sunni Muslim center of learning, Al-Azhar, are expected to formally reopen talks next year after a five-year lull.

Officials from the Vatican's office of interreligious affairs are going to Cairo this weekend for a preparatory meeting to lay the groundwork for the official restart of talks, scheduled for late April in Rome.

The Vatican announcement Friday comes after Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, met at the Vatican in May and embraced. It marked a turning point after Al-Azhar froze talks with the Vatican in 2011 to protest comments by then-Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people.