Pope Francis said he plans renewed cooperation to further Catholic-Jewish relations and hopes to contribute to a world where all people live in harmony with the "will of the creator."In a March 13 message to Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni of Rome, the pope said he "profoundly hopes to be able to contribute to the progress that Jewish-Catholic relations have seen starting from the Second Vatican Council, in a spirit of renewed collaboration."He said he also hoped to be "at the service of a world that may grow in harmony with the will of the creator."The pope sent his "cordial greetings" to the head of Rome's Jewish community the evening of his election March 13. Rabbi di Segni, who attended the installation Mass March 19, said the pope's reference to continuing the work begun with Vatican II was "very, very important.""There are elements in the church that have put themselves on the fringes because they don't accept the council or they accept it in a very limited way," he told the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera March 19."To establish that our relationship cannot do without the council, which is at the foundation of (Catholic-Jewish relations), means to go forward rather than in reverse," said the rabbi.After Pope Francis' election, the rabbi sent his best wishes to the new pope, saying he hoped his leadership would be graced with "strength and wisdom in the formidable task that has been entrusted" to him."In the past decades, Rome has been a privileged place where historical steps have been taken in Christian-Jewish relations," Rabbi di Segni wrote the pope.Pope Francis' election as bishop of Rome "gives us the hope that the journey of friendship, respect and fruitful collaboration will continue," he wrote.Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Pope Francis, inviting him "to pay a visit to the Holy Land at the earliest possibility.""He'll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area," he said in a written statement March 14."The relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people are now at their best in the last 2000 years and I hope they will grow in content and depths," the president said, adding that the new pope "represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening.""We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite: unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord bless the new pope," Peres wrote.Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Pope Francis' election "a significant moment in the history of the church" that will foster positive relations in the wake of "the transformational papacies of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI -- pontiffs who launched historic reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people," he said in a March 13 statement."There is much in his record that reassures us about the future," Foxman said, including "the new pope's sensitivity to the Jews."Muslim leaders express hopes for improved relationsMuslim leaders expressed hopes the new pope would help improve relations between Muslims and Catholics.A spokesman for Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said he hoped Pope Francis' election would help normalize relations with the world of Islam."We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope," said Mahmoud Azab, adviser to el-Tayeb on interfaith issues, March 13.Egypt's Al-Azhar University, a world-renowned center of Sunni Islam scholarship, suspended dialogue with the Vatican in 2011 to protest Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about anti-Christian violence in Egypt and the need to protect religious minorities there.Azab told Catholic News Service that the university was pleased with a pope from Latin America, but said it was waiting for "positive signs" before agreeing to resume dialogue with Rome."We congratulate the Catholic world and hope to re-enter into dialogue when there are positive signs ... which encourage us. It is up to the Vatican," he told CNS.He said that Al-Azhar was pleased that a pope had been chosen from Latin America, where religion is strong and "where people live their faith in ways similar to us.""With the new pope ... we hope to find suitable terrain to work together ... for humanity," Azab said.Essam el-Erian, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and adviser to President Mohammed Morsi, said the new pope's election "opens a new and important phase."He suggested in a report in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano March 15 that one of the new pope's tasks should be "to re-establish dialogue with other churches, but especially with Al-Azhar" University.What the pope says and does will greatly influence the world given that he leads more than 1 billion Catholics around the globe, el-Erian said.May the new pope "be a turning point in the world (working) on behalf of the poor, human rights, dialogue with the Arab and Islamic world and peace," el-Erian told the newspaper.The Arab World Association in Italy sent greetings to the new pope and said America should increase efforts aimed at "promoting peace in the world and in Palestine."The Italian Islamic Religious Community expressed joy over the election and said it believed "the new pontificate is a sign of a true opening and universal recognition" toward all monotheistic faith communities. It said it hoped "an authentic spiritual harmony" among these communities would be strengthened.In addition, the group said it was hopeful that "the fraternal collaboration may be a strong point for a new intellectual and spiritual orientation of humanity and its role in the world."It noted the special significance of the pope taking his name from St. Francis of Assisi who, it said, represents "a great example of holiness and openness toward the East and Islam."The group also praised the "other great saint," St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the pope's religious order. The Italian Islamic community said St. Ignatius "recalls that sense of seeking to know God, which is at the heart of every true spirituality."Rome's Imam Mohammed Hassen also sent greetings to Pope Francis, saying he hoped for good "relations of dialogue between us and the Vatican for the good of all of humanity. We pray to God that he help carry out this new mission with success."—CNS
Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.