With the end of the month of Ramadan approaching, Pope Francis decided to personally write to all Muslims as a sign of friendship and to promote greater respect between the two faiths.
“This year, the first of my Pontificate, I have decided to sign this traditional message myself and to send it to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter, which was signed on July 10.
Ramadan, the season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving will end with the customary feast of Id al-Fitr on August 8 or 9 this year. The variability is due to the holiday being determined by the Islamic calendar, which is lunar.
Pope Francis began his message, released Aug. 2 by the Vatican, by focusing on how his ministry as pontiff and the choice of his papal name are founded upon “a very famous saint who loved God and every human being deeply.”
“I am aware that family and social dimensions enjoy a particular prominence for Muslims during this period, and it is worth noting that there are certain parallels in each of these areas with Christian faith and practice,” he said.
For the theme of this year’s message the Holy Father chose: “Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.”
By “respect,” Pope Francis said he means “an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem,” while his emphasis on mutuality was to underscore that “this is not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides.”
He also detailed how respect plays out at the personal level.
“What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices,” he wrote.
The Pope noted that this requires that people “think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation.
“Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal,” he added.
Building up mutual respect also has implications for “interreligious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims,” the Pope stated.
He explained that this means respecting “the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values.
“Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!”
Pope Francis also made an important distinction about the thinking behind showing respect toward a religion that one does not follow.
“It is clear that, when we show respect for the religion of our neighbors or when we offer them our good wishes on the occasion of a religious celebration, we simply seek to share their joy, without making reference to the content of their religious convictions,” he said.
Turning to future generations, the Pope emphasized the importance of Christians and Muslims bringing up their children “to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”
The Holy Father finished his message by wishing all Muslims a “happy feast” and offering his “prayerful good wishes, that your lives may glorify the Almighty and give joy to those around you.”