European Muslims see dialogue hope in new pope’s choice of name

March 16, 2013

(Sacro Monte (Ort ). Chapel 14 – Saint Francis rejects the money offered by the Sultan of Egypt, 31 July 2010/Wolfgang Sauber)

Muslims in Europe see hope for better relations with Roman Catholicism after the new pope took the name Francis, recalling the 13th-century saint known for his efforts to launch Christian dialogue with Islam.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio chose the name after his election on Wednesday in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who is revered for his radical poverty and humility. Francis met the sultan of Egypt in 1219 on a peace mission during the Fifth Crusade.

St. Francis crossed enemy lines unarmed to meet Sultan Malik al-Kamil and discuss war, peace and faith. He spent several days with the Muslim ruler, unsuccessfully trying to convert him, and was then returned safely to the Crusader side.

Muslim leaders in Italy, France and Germany, where St. Francis and his Franciscan order of brown-robed friars are well known, struck an upbeat tone.

“As Muslims of the West, we take as a particularly hopeful sign the reminder, in the name of the new pontiff, of the great example of sanctity and opening to the East and to Islam that St. Francis of Assisi gave,” the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS) said in a statement.

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