By Yasmine Hafiz/Huffington Post
Pope Francis personally reached out to Muslims around the world with Id al-Fitr greetings for the holiday that concludes the holy month of Ramadan. While the message has been traditional since 1967, usually the greetings are sent by the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Pope Francis explained that he wanted to personally write this year’s message as a mark of his “esteem and friendship” for all Muslims, citing the example of his namesake Saint Francis, who “loved every human being deeply.”
Addressed “To Muslims throughout the World,” the message is an important call to action for peace and tolerance as he proposed reflection on the theme, “Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.” As sectarian and religious tensions continue worldwide, the pope emphasized the importance of respect and need to educate Muslim and Christian youth in a tolerant and loving manner. He said, “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.”
The pope also offered good wishes to Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan during a visit to the island of Lampedusa in Italy on July 8, saying in a speech, “I also think with affection of those Muslim immigrants who this evening begin the fast of Ramadan, which I trust will bear abundant spiritual fruit. The church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.”
His sincere and friendly greetings will hopefully be warmly received by leaders of the Muslim community, many of whom felt uneasy with the last pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, after he quoted an anti-Islamic remark in his 2006 Regensburg lecture and sparked worldwide outrage.
“In issuing a personal, heartfelt and meaningful message to Muslims around the world at the end of Ramadan, we see a genuine effort on behalf of Pope Francis to send a message of good will and compassion. Focusing on youth and ‘mutual respect through education,’ Pope Francis underscores the critical components of cohesiveness -– that people of all faiths should respect the other and learn about ‘the other,'” said Farah Pandith, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities. “His important message of mutual respect will no doubt have a powerful impact on how the next generation of Muslim and Christian youth view and interact with each other.”
Francis is being called “the People’s Pope” for his outreach to many marginalized groups.