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Strained Under Benedict, Vatican's Interfaith Ties Already Improving

Leaders of Muslim, Jewish and other non-Catholic faiths are welcoming the election of Pope Francis. Many expect improved interfaith relations after setbacks under Pope Benedict.

The Vatican's relations with other faiths have always been fraught. Benedict's papacy, however, has left them in need of repair. He sparked anger across the Muslim world when he cited a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said the Prophet Muhammad had brought things that were "evil and inhuman."

Omar Shahin, the secretary general of the North American Imams Federation, said, "It was a very bad start, and, because of this speech, people stop(ped) all interfaith dialogue."

Benedict later apologized saying the emperor's views weren't his own.

Shahin said Francis' first step should be reaching out to Al-Azhar, a center of Islamic learning in Cairo that severed relations with the Vatican in 2011.

"So now is the time to communicate with them again in order to reopen this dialogue and build more bridges between the Christian and Muslim communities," said Shahin.

Benedict also angered Jews when he revoked the ex-communication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Pope Francis

-Full name: Jorge Mario Bergoglio
-Born December 17, 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, Argentina
-Made cardinal by Pope John Paul II in February 2001
-First pope from Latin America
-First Jesuit pope
As cardinal, though, Jorge Bergoglio had warm ties with rabbis in Argentina. One referred to the new pope as "my rabbi."

Bergoglio's response to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires stood out, said American rabbi David Saperstein.

"He was one of the few very prominent leaders to have spoken out, very forcefully, denouncing the attack, and standing in solidarity with the Jewish community. And that meant a lot to us," said Saperstein.

Benedict angered other Christian denominations by suggesting they are not true churches. In the first days of Francis' papacy, however, the Vatican's relations with other faiths appear to be on the mend.