CAIRO - Muslims worldwide have congratulated Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio for being elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, voice hope for better relations with the Vatican under the new pontiff.
"We congratulate Pope Francis on his election by the College of Cardinals and offer the Muslim community's support and cooperation in every positive effort he will undertake for peace, justice and the betterment of humanity, Nihad Award, the National Executive Director of the umbrella Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Thursday, March 14.
Bergoglio was named a pope late Wednesday after four inconclusive votes, replacing Benedict XVI, who resigned last month for health reasons.
The new pontiff, 76, the first from South America, has taken the name Francis.
He will be officially installed as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church on March 19, the Vatican said.
Bergoglio's election has broken Europe's centuries-old grip on the papacy.
He is also the first to take the name Francis, in honor of the 12th-century Italian saint from Assisi who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty.
Born into a family of seven, Bergoglio became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies.
Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years.
The new pope has a reputation as someone willing to challenge powerful interests and has had a sometimes difficult relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner.
Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan".
Pope Francis is expected to pursue the uncompromising moral teachings of Benedict and John Paul II.
Bergoglio was a rival candidate at the 2005 conclave to Benedict, but his name had not appeared on lists of possible contenders this time around, with many discounting him because of his age, thinking prelates wanted a younger leader.
Muslims voiced hope for better relations with the Vatican under the new pope.
"We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope," Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs to Al-Azhar imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Relations between Muslims and the Vatican strained in 2006 after Pope Benedict quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
Benedict had repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.
The pontiff's remarks had prompted Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, to halt dialogue with the Vatican.
Relations hit new ebb after the pope said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution following a church attack in Egypt.
At the time, Al-Azhar said it would cut ties with the Vatican over Benedict's repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way. "We hope that this dialogue will be imbued with fresh impetus, and our interaction will proceed to a higher level," Mufti Shafig Pshikhachev, the executive director of the International Islamic Mission, a representative of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus in Moscow, said.