ROME — In a tradition that is customarily carried out by the Vatican’s interfaith dialogue department, Pope Francis issued a written greeting to Muslims on Friday in recognition of the close of the Islamic holiday Ramadan.
“It gives me great pleasure to greet you as you celebrate ‘Id al-Fitr’, so concluding the month of Ramadan, dedicated mainly to fasting, prayer and almsgiving,” he wrote. “This year, the first of my Pontificate, I have decided to sign this traditional message myself and to send it to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.”
Francis outlined that the theme of his statement was in regard to his desire to promote “mutual respect through education.”
“Turning to mutual respect in inter-religious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims, we are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” he wrote. “Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!”
“It is clear that, when we show respect for the religion of our neighbors or when we offer them our good wishes on the occasion of a religious celebration, we simply seek to share their joy, without making reference to the content of their religious convictions,” Francis added.
The Pope also stated that the youth of the world should be raised to respect other religions and not condemn their traditions and beliefs.
“Regarding the education of Muslim and Christian youth, we have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices,” he wrote. “We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way, sincere and lasting friendship can grow.”
“I send you my prayerful good wishes, that your lives may glorify the Almighty and give joy to those around you,” Francis concluded. “Happy Feast to you all!”
This is not Francis’ first time offering conciliatory statements to Muslims, however, as the Pope also greeted Islamic migrants in Italy at the start of Ramadan last month.
“I sent heartfelt greetings to dear Muslim immigrants who, this evening, will begin the Ramadan fast, and wish them abundant spiritual rewards,” he said. “The Church is close to you in your search for better lives for yourselves and your families.”
Additionally, as previously reported, Francis held his first ecumenical meeting in March, greeting Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, as well as those who ascribe to no faith at all. During the occasion, he praised the Muslim leaders that had come for the meeting, remarking that they were men who “adore the one, living, and merciful God and who call upon Him in prayer.”
“For my part, I wish to assure you, following in the path of my predecessors, of my firm will to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue,” he said, referencing the Second Vatican Council. “I also ask of you the kindness of a special prayer for myself, so that I might be a pastor in harmony with Christ’s heart.”
Reaction to the Pope’s greeting on Friday for the close of Ramadan was mixed.
“The Pope is very honorable, in my eyes, in trying to bridge gaps between groups when I live amongst many who prefer to create more issues,” one commenter wrote. “Perhaps grown-ups will one day find their true identity comes from knowing their own self and not found in the target of the day for their group.”
“Interfaith dialogue, count me out,” wrote another. “I have to say there is a very real danger of interfaith dialogue. What happens is we show so many interfaith events that people begin to assume that all religions are the same.”
“Setting the stage for a one world religion,” a third said.
Photo: Edgar Jiminez