Pope refers to ‘Muslim brothers’ on Good Friday

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Pope Francis lies down in prayer during the Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, March 29, 2013. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. AP

ROME — 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 East.

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 Week.

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 crucifixion.

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 others.”

“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 crucifixion.

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 ingeneral to “intensify” relations with the Muslim world.

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.

The Vatican’s efforts to reconcile with the Islamic world have not been welcomed by all. Italy’s most famous Muslim convert to Catholicism, Magdi Allam, announced last week he was leaving the church because of its “soft” stance on Islam. Allam was baptized by Benedict XVI in 2008 during the high-profile Easter Vigil service when the pope traditionally baptizes a handful of adults. There has been no Vatican comment on his about-face.

Thousands of people packed the Colosseum and surrounding areas for the nighttime procession, holding candles wrapped in paper globes as Francis sat in silent prayer as a giant torch-lit crucifix twinkled nearby. Some in the crowd had Lebanese flags around their shoulders in an indication of the special role Lebanese faithful played in this year’s procession.

Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East — nearly 40 percent of the country’s 4 million people, with Maronite Catholics the largest sect. As civil war has raged in neighboring Syria, Lebanon’s Christian community has been divided between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Overall, Christians in the Middle East have been uneasy as the Arab Spring has led to the strengthening of Islamist groups in most countries that have experienced uprisings. Thousands of Christians have fled the region — a phenomenon that the Vatican has lamented, given Christianity’s roots in the Holy Land.

“How sad it is to see this blessed land suffer in its children, who relentlessly tear one another to pieces and die!” said one of the Good Friday meditations. “It seems that nothing can overcome evil, terrorism, murder and hatred.”

Francis picked up on that message, saying Christ’s death on the cross is “the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us.”

“Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the cross upon themselves as Jesus did,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, a male choir sang a haunting Arabic hymn, a reflection of the Eastern rite influence that infused the ceremony.

On Saturday, Francis presides over the solemn Easter Vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Sunday, he celebrates Easter Mass and delivers an important speech. Usually the pope also issues Easter greetings in dozens of languages.

In his two weeks as pope, Francis’ discomfort with speaking in any language other than Italian has become apparent. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday “we’ll have to see” what Francis does with the multilingual greetings.

The Good Friday procession was conducted entirely in Italian, whereas in years past the core elements recounting what happens at each station would be recited in a variety of languages.

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  • Populovich

    Pope Francis I pray that you lead all Catholics to Jesus Christ and away from any form of idol-worshipping. God abhor it. I pray that you lead them to worship God in spirit and in truth. May this lenten season opened up their hearts and minds to God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Lead them to seek the wisdom from God and turn to God and love Him, obey Him and serve Him with all their hearts, mind and strength. This is my prayer in Jesus name.

    • YamatoKira

      Amen :-)

    • alden

      at ikaw namn ipagdaral kita na sana matauhan at maliwanagan ka na we catholics are not idol worshiper…sacred images are just material representation in our temples, our church never told us to worship it at alam yan ni pope, ang akusasyun mo ay gawa lang ng utak mong malikot at makitid haha

      • Populovich

        This is what I meant. The way you said it reflects your religious upbringing. A true believers in Christ never engaged in mudslinging. You really need to change your desire, heart and mind to have a credible faith. If Jesus really reigns in your heart you will only say what is pleasing to Him.

      • alden

        MUDSLINGING???did you understand what you’re saying…your statement above is a false accusation to us due to your lack of understanding about our faith, it is you non-Catholics who did nothing but disrespecting us and now that I’m answering you…ikaw pa ang may ganang magsabi ng “A true believers in Christ never engaged in mudslinging” natanong mo ba yan sa sarili mo??? For your info im a true believer of Jesus Christ, He is the only Founder of our church at hindi ang kung sino-sino…now you’re saying

        ” If Jesus really reigns in your heart you will only say what is pleasing to Him….”

        — what’s wrong defending my faith to the heretical claim of yours, it is in you who did not really reigns jesus in your heart…you are a false accuser, by the way where can you find in my statement that i’m saying unpleasant words to Him ohhh to say you will only say what is pleasing to Him…another false accusation hahaha…I know you’re faith alone believer it cames from the lips of Jesus:

        Matthew 7:21

        “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter
        the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”.

      • stjohnofthevatican

        Alden said “at ikaw namn ipagdaral kita na sana matauhan at maliwanagan ka na we catholics are not idol worshiper..” Well quit from posting and reacting, just do what you have said. Pray for him! Stop!

    • dal

      excuse me

      the holy bible is not the Word of God

      Jesus himself is the Word of God

      The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

      the Bible is the “WRITTEN” records of the Gospel and the works of the Apostles and the historical events during Moses’ time, etc.

      the bible is actually a compilation of holy books

      but it is NOT the Word of God.

      yes the Holy Spirit guided the authors but it is not the Word of God

      Jesus himself is the Word of God

      The Word became flesh

      The Word did not become a book

      don’t confuse yourself

      i’m not saying this to de-value the bible

      of course it is holy

      and in case you don’t know, it is the Catholic Church that compiled and canonized the bible with guidance from the Holy Spirit

      btw. I’m a Catholic and we don’t worship idols. the problem with you is that you
      have a misconception about Catholicism. but i don’t want to debate about that. after all, in the final analysis, this is between us and God. not between us Catholics and you.

      My peace I give you :)

      • stjohnofthevatican

        Who said “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I know its in the bible but do you know who made such statement?

      • walang pakundangan

        excuse me
        “the holy bible is not the Word of God”–huh
        “Jesus himself is the Word of God”–why satan always say the opposite?

        …Jesus is the Word ( God’s spokesman… noun) Bible is the word of God, what is written in the bible in inspired of God, in short God’s Word or word of God. John 1:1 says : In the beginning was the word(Jesus) (not word of God) and the word was with God (with his Father the Almighty) and the word was a god (not and the word of God is a god)

  • stjohnofthevatican

    Magdi Allam made a wrong choice and now not even sure of where he is going. Quite pitiful!

  • http://www.yahoo.com/ Jose Paman

    There will be peace on earth if we will respect each others belief.

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