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Pope urges dialogue with Islam

Also seeks closer ties with China

Pope Francis said he wishes to build bridges that will “connect all people.’’

EPA/Tony Gentile/Pool

Pope Francis said he wishes to build bridges that will “connect all people.’’

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appealed for more intense dialogue with Islam on Friday, while calling on church leaders to renew diplomatic discourse with countries that do not have official ties with the Holy See, like China.

The pope addressed ambassadors from the 180 countries accredited with the Holy See, urging them to share his objectives: fighting poverty, building peace, and establishing ‘‘true links of friendship between all people’’ by building bridges between them.

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To this aim, promoting interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam, is critical, he said, adding that he was grateful that ‘‘so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world’’ had attended his installation Mass on Tuesday.

During Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, relations between the Vatican and Islam were strained by remarks he made in a 2006 speech that were interpreted as critical of Islam, prompting widespread protests in the Muslim world. The Vatican apologized, explaining that the remarks had been misinterpreted, but the incident weighed on the papacy.

Then, in 2011, Al Azhar University in Cairo, the center of Islamic learning, froze relations with the Vatican in protest after the pope called for greater protection of Egypt’s Coptic Christians after a church bombing in Alexandria.

But the Vatican said Friday that Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, Al Azhar’s chief imam, had sent a message congratulating the pope for his election.

As he has done on other public occasions, the pope on Friday drew attention to his decision to choose the name of Francis of Assisi, a ‘‘familiar figure’’ around the world, known for helping the poor, caring for those who suffer, protecting the environment from greedy exploitation, and setting an example ‘‘to make society more humane and more just,’’ he said.

The title of pontiff, he said, means builder of bridges. ‘‘My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced,’’ he said.

The pope expressed a hope that dialogue would pick up with countries that do not have diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

The Vatican and China have not had formal ties since 1951, and relations have been strained in recent years over the ordination of bishops named by the Beijing government without Vatican consent.

This week, a Chinese spokesman sent a message of congratulations for Francis’ election, but demanded that the Vatican sever its ties with Taiwan as a necessary prelude to formal diplomatic relations.

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