A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice:

130320-pope-2013.photoblog600By Kari Huus, Staff Writer, NBC News

Catholics and Muslims have come a long way since the Crusades, but during the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI, relations between the world’s two largest religions hit the skids.

So it was with relief and renewed optimism that prominent Muslims and interfaith advocates cheered the newly anointed Pope Francis.

“We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope,” Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs at Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning in Cairo, told AFP. “We congratulate the Church of St. Peter and all Catholics around the world.”

From the start, Benedict put less energy in reaching out to other religions than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who blazed the trail for Catholic relations with Muslims and other religions through his tireless travels and scores of meetings and prayer with imams around the world.

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