Pope reaches to 'Muslim brothers'
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 night-time 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.
The 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 centre, 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 in general to "intensify" relations with the Muslim world.