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World Religious Leaders Welcome Pope Francis

  • Selah Hennessy

Pope Francis greets Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (r) as he celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.

Pope Francis greets Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (r) as he celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.

As Catholics around the world welcome newly elected Pope Francis, proponents of other global faiths are also reacting to the new Vatican leader with congratulations and hope for renewed ties.

The Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 countries, said Thursday it hopes the election of a new pope will signal improved relations between Islam and Christianity.

In a congratulatory letter, the organization's secretary-general said he hoped cordiality and a "sincere friendship" would be renewed.

A senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, also congratulated the new pope, extending an invitation from Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority:

"President Abbas extended an invitation to his holiness to visit the Holy Land - to visit Jerusalem, to visit Bethlehem," said Erekat. "We congratulate the pope, we congratulate the Vatican. And President Abbas is determined to continue exerting every possible effort in order to foster [improved] relations between Palestine and the city of Vatican."

Al Azhar University in Cairo, the center of Islamic learning, said it hoped for "better relations with the Vatican" under Pope Francis.

Relations between the Vatican and the Muslim world were strained during the papacy of Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation last month.

In a speech at Regensburg University in Germany in 2006, Benedict's comments were interpreted as an attack on Islam. He had recounted an anecdote in which the Prophet Muhammad was portrayed as spreading his faith through violence, "by the sword."

Other faiths have also welcomed the newly elected head of the Roman Catholic Church.

"The holy pope is a meaningful leader for all of us, not just for the Catholic community," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, who spoke in Jerusalem on Thursday.

In Moscow, Father Kirill Gorbunov of the Church of the Immaculate Conception said relations between the Russian Orthodox Church, where most faithful Russians are members, would be close with the new pope.

"I remember the words of one representative of the Russian Orthodox Church toward the new pope [from] Buenos Aires, who remembered that the pope had visited the Orthodox Church, who was assured that this is a man who knows and loves the Orthodox faith. These words show that for this pope the Orthodox Church isn't something foreign," said Gorbunov.

Pope Francis was chosen on Wednesday as the first Latin American leader of the Catholic Church.
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