Hopes For Interfaith Dialogue

ROME — Halfway into Pope Francis’ installation as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, the people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square were asked to turn to their neighbor and greet them with a handshake and a blessing of peace. This kind of reconciliation between peoples was played out in another way during the day. The installation of Pope Francis was the first in recent memory attended by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. After the mass, Francis and Bartholomew shook hands and embraced. The two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago.

Catholic worshippers watch on as Pope Francis recognizes interfaith delegations at the inauguration. David Palacio / Religio.

Catholic worshippers watch on as Pope Francis recognizes interfaith delegations at the inauguration. David Palacio / Religio.

“It’s a huge historical event,” said Alejandro Crosthwaite, 45, a professor at Dominican University Anglican in Rome. “It is a sign of bringing union with the East and West church which has been a dream since John Paul II.”

The Eastern and Western churches were united until the Great Schism of 1054, a divide that occurred mainly from disagreements over the primacy of the pope. According to Francesco Marino, 30, A Dominican friar, Pope Francis’ choice to refer to himself first as the Bishop of Rome sent a humble message to the Orthodox community.

“For the Orthodox, when you say this they recognize you as the first among Patriarchs,” said Marino. “ It is the link to other faiths.”

Before becoming pope, Francis was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. In that position, he had a reputation for facilitating interfaith dialogue not just within the Orthodox Church, but also among the Jewish and Muslim communities. In 2006, he sponsored interfaith prayers after Pope Benedict XVI offended Muslims by quoting a Byzantine emperor, as saying some of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings were “evil and inhuman.”

“He is open and beginning the dialogue with the Muslim community,” said Crosthwaite.

Six heads of state, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, as well as heads of many other faiths, including Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni of Rome, were among the 130 delegations present at this afternoon’s installation mass.

While all the signs point to a strong interfaith dialogue for the future of the papacy, the Rev. Godwin Ukatu, 40, a Catholic Priest for the past 10 years, wants to wait a little longer before he makes any conclusions about the future of Francis’ papacy.

“We cannot conclude right now,” said Ukatu, “We hope he will be open to other faiths.”

Spiannie Naalden, 59, who was visiting Rome from Holland with her husband, reflected on what this new papacy means for the poor, and for her personal faith.

“It doesn’t matter what background you have,” said Naalden, “Treat people how you want to be treated, it’s so simple.”

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