NEW YORK — During a speech at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Thursday night, the Roman Catholic pontiff known as Francis offered prayers for his Muslim “brothers and sisters” on the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice following word of a deadly stampede during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I would like to express two sentiments for my Muslim brothers and sisters,” he began. “First, I send my greetings as they celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice [Eid al-Adha]. I would have my greeting to have been warmer. My sentiments are closeness.”
“I am close to them in the face of tragedy, the tragedy they suffered in Mecca,” Francis continued. “In this moment, I give assurances in their prayers. I unite myself with you all in prayer to Almighty God, all merciful.”
Approximately 700 people were killed yesterday and nearly 1,000 more injured during a ritual in Saudi Arabia called “stoning the devil,” during which participants throw stones at three pillars in a reenactment of Abraham’s alleged stoning of the devil to avoid temptation—according to Muslim tradition. During the ritual, the large crowds began to surge and some fell and were trampled to death.
Stampedes have occurred during the pilgrimage in years past with hundreds being killed, but Thursday’s incident is considered to be the deadliest since 1990.
Jorge Bergoglio, who was selected as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in 2013, has expressed a desire for ecumenicism toward Muslims from the beginning of his tenure, issuing greetings during Muslim holy days.
“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 in a 2013 statement during Ramadan.
The pontiff also met with Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), later that year and visited Turkey’s Blue Mosque last November, expressing reverence during a moment of prayer observed by the nation’s grand mufti, who led him on a tour of the Islamic facility.
Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries of Plano, Texas notes that harmony with Muslims is consistent with Roman Catholic doctrine.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 841, reads, ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims … together with us they adore the one, merciful God,’” he told Christian News Network. “This is a blatant rejection of the teachings of Christ, who declared He is the only way to the Father. Those who do not believe Jesus is God will die in their sins.”