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Strained Under Benedict, Vatican's Interfaith Ties Already Improving

Strained Under Benedict, Vatican's Interfaith Ties Already Improvingi
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March 15, 2013 11:21 PM
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. VOA's religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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.

  • Pope Francis with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, holding a picture of a plaque commemorating the 1984 peace and friendship treaty between Argentina and Chile, March 18, 2013.
  • Pope Francis and Uruguay's priest Gonzalo Aemilius greet people at the Vatican, March 17, 2013.
  • Pope Francis greets the crowds after conducting a mass in Saint Anna church inside the Vatican, March 17, 2013.
  • Pope Francis appears at the window of his future private apartment to bless the faithful, gathered below in St. Peter's Square, during the Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican March 17, 2013.
  • Pope Francis conducts a mass in Santa Anna church inside the Vatican, March 17, 2013.
  • Pope Francis leaves the Paul VI hall with security at the Vatican, March 16, 2013.
  • Pope Francis checks out of the church-run residence where he had been staying in Rome before becoming pontiff, March, 14, 2013. (Osservatore Romano)
  • Key chains featuring images of the newly-elected Pope Francis are displayed in a tourist shop near the Vatican in Rome, March 15, 2013.
  • In this image made from video provided by CTV, Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.
  • Newly elected Pope Francis waves from the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome, March 14, 2013.
  • Newly elected Pope Francis walks in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore during a private visit in Rome, March 14, 2013.
  • Newly elected Pope Francis makes a private visit to the 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in a photo released by Osservatore Romano in Rome, March 14, 2013.
  • A nun takes a photograph of the first batch of souvenirs adorned with freshly-printed pictures of the newly-elected Pope Francis in a shop at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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