Pope-FrancisBy 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.” …

There are some early signs that Pope Francis could pick up where Pope John Paul II left off.

Reports from Argentina citing local Muslim leaders suggest that Francis ”” formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires ”” was a friend to the Muslim community. …

But a lot of Muslim optimism about Francis is based simply on hunches about his character.

The initial impression of the pope ”” as a man who values simplicity, openness, and the ability to connect with all people ”” is appealing to Muslims, said Esposito.

For the new pope’s installation ceremony, he noted: “They went out of their way to talk about how people of all major faiths are invited. From the other side, it’s interesting to see how quick Muslims were”¦ to say how they look forward to working with him.”

He referred to public statements issued by prominent imams as well as larger Muslim civil rights groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. (Full article)

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