In a demonstration of what the Vatican spokesman called Pope Francis’ “particular attention to relations with the Muslim world,” the pope on Friday personally signed the Holy See message for Muslims at the end of Ramadan, calling for “mutual respect through education” between Christianity and Islam.
“We are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” Francis wrote in a statement distributed by the Holy See.
“We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers,” said the message, which stressed the enhanced role that education must play in building respect for different religions and the need “to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”
“As an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims,” Francis decided to personally sign his good wishes to Muslims worldwide on the feast of Id al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month of prayer and fasting. Historically, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has delivered the message on behalf of the Holy See. The last pope to send a personal message to Muslims was John Paul II in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
“It’s not the first time that a pontiff has signed the message by his own hand,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. “But it certainly shows Francis’ particular attention to relations with the Muslim world.”
In 2006, Francis’ predecessor as pope, Benedict XVI, upset Muslims when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” Muslims in many countries took to the streets in protest, and an Italian nun was killed in Somalia. Benedict later apologized, and the Holy See was very careful in avoiding any similar remarks.
Francis, who chose the name of the saint known as the “universal brother,” with strong ties to Islam, has always been quite attentive to interreligious dialogue. Meeting religious leaders from all over the world in March, the pope promised friendship, respect and dialogue among men and women of different religious traditions, and expressed special gratitude to the Muslim leaders who had come to salute him at the beginning of his papacy.
In his first address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Francis stressed the importance of intensifying dialogue among the various faiths, “particularly dialogue with Islam.”
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