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Pope Francis challenges Muslims to condemn violence in the name of God

VATICAN CITY (RNS) “Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence,” the pope said.

Afternoon prayer at the St. George Church in the historic Assyrian Christian town of Alqosh in the Nineveh Plain of Iraqi Kurdistan. Locals adhere to the Chaldeon Catholic religion. The town was nearly overrun by Islamic fighters earlier this summer, when Peshmerga forces withdrew their forces, abandoning the Christian town. Photo by Jodi Hilton
Afternoon prayer at the St. George Church in the historic Assyrian Christian town of Alqosh in the Nineveh Plain of Iraqi Kurdistan. Locals adhere to the Chaldeon Catholic religion. The town was nearly overrun by Islamic fighters earlier this summer, when Peshmerga forces withdrew their forces, abandoning the Christian town. Photo by Jodi Hilton

Afternoon prayer at the St. George Church in the historic Assyrian Christian town of Alqosh in the Nineveh Plain of Iraqi Kurdistan. Locals adhere to the Chaldeon Catholic religion. The town was nearly overrun by Islamic fighters earlier this summer, when Peshmerga forces withdrew their forces, abandoning the Christian town. Photo by Jodi Hilton

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Tuesday (Dec. 23) challenged Muslim religious leaders to “unanimously” condemn the violent persecution of Christians in the Middle East, as well as killing in the name of God.

In an open Christmas letter to beleaguered Christians in the region, the pope called on Muslims to push a “more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire.”

“Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence,” the pope said.

“The tragic situation faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as the Yazidi and members of other religious and ethnic communities, demands that all religious leaders clearly speak out to condemn these crimes unanimously and unambiguously.”

The pope stopped short of naming the self-declared militant Islamic State, but expressed his closeness to Christians suffering in the region, including the thousands of refugees and victims of kidnapping and violence.

He urged the international community to not only help the many Christians in need but to increase humanitarian aid and end the violence.

“I write to you just before Christmas, knowing that for many of you the music of your Christmas hymns will be accompanied by tears and sighs,” he said.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome on Dec. 8, 2014, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Pope Francis delivers his blessing while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome on Dec. 8, 2014, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

It’s not the first time that Francis has urged Muslim leaders to take a stronger stand against Christian persecution and condemn terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, particularly in Iraq and Syria. He previously called for greater support on his return flight from Turkey in November, saying a “global condemnation” of the violence would help the majority of Muslims dispel this stereotype.

In a 2006 speech, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI set off global protests after a scholarly address about the interplay of faith and reason. He wanted to show how reason untethered from faith leads to fanaticism and violence. Instead, many Muslims heard him say that Islam is inherently violent.

Benedict referenced an obscure 14th-century dialogue between a long-forgotten Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian scholar, about the concept of violence in Islam. The passage that caught attention was when Benedict quoted Paleologus’ description of Islam as “evil and inhuman” and having been “spread by the sword.”

KRE/AMB END McKENNA