NEWARK, N.J. -- Muslims in the U.S. hailed Pope Benedict XVI's meeting with Islamic leaders at the Vatican on Monday, saying they are increasingly confident the new pontiff wants better ties between the world's two largest religions. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, chosen last week to succeed Pope John Paul II, met with Islamic leaders who had attended his installation Mass the day before, promising to work toward building "bridges of friendship" between Catholics and Muslims. "It is encouraging to note that a meeting with Muslims was one of the first official acts of Pope Benedict XVI," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"We hope that this initial positive step is a sign that he intends to build on Pope John Paul II's legacy of interfaith dialogue and reconciliation." The new pontiff said growing dialogue between the religions is a step toward fostering peace. "It is therefore imperative to engage in authentic and sincere dialogue, built on respect for the dignity of every human person, created as we Christians firmly believe, in the image and likeness of God," said Pope Benedict XVI. Those words were heartening to Muslims who were carefully watching the new pontiff for signs of how he will approach relations with Islam. (MORE)