Pope Francis reached out in friendship to "so many Muslim brothers
and sisters" during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering
of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle
The new pontiff, who has rankled
traditionalists by rejecting many trappings of his office, mostly stuck
to the traditional script during the nighttime Way of the Cross
procession at Rome's Colosseum, one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy
With torches lighting the way, the
faithful carried a cross to different stations, where meditations and
prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Jesus' life and his
This year, the prayers were
composed by young Lebanese, and many recalled the plight of minority
Christians in the region, where wars have forced thousands to flee their
homelands. The meditations called for an end to "violent
fundamentalism," terrorism and the "wars and violence which in our days
devastate various countries in the Middle East."
Francis, who became pope just over two weeks ago, chose, however, to
stress Christians' positive relations with Muslims in the region in his
brief comments at the end of the ceremony.
Standing on a platform overlooking the procession route, Francis
recalled Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to Lebanon when "we saw the beauty
and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that
land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many
"That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world, a sign of hope," he said.
Friday's outreach followed Francis' eyebrow-raising
gesture a day earlier, when he washed and kissed the feet of two women,
one a Muslim, in the Holy Thursday ritual that commemorates Jesus'
washing of his apostles' feet during the Last Supper before his
Breaking with tradition, Francis
performed the ritual on 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center,
rather than in Rome's grand St. John Lateran basilica, where in the
past, 12 priests have been chosen to represent Jesus' disciples.
Before he became pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario
Bergoglio long cultivated warm relations with Muslim leaders in his
native Argentina. In one of his first speeches as pope, he called for
the church and the West in general to "intensify" relations with the
The Vatican's relations with Islam
hit several bumps during Benedict XVI's papacy, when he outraged
Muslims with a 2006 speech quoting a Byzantine emperor as saying some of
Prophet Muhammad's teachings were "evil and inhuman." And in 2011, the
pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world,
Cairo's Al-Azhar institute, froze dialogue with the Vatican to protest
Benedict's call for greater protection of Christians in Egypt.
However, Francis' past outreach to the Muslim community
in Argentina seems to have changed that. Al-Azhar's chief imam, Sheik
Ahmed el-Tayyib, sent a message of congratulations to Francis on his
election and said he hoped for cooperation.