Pope Reaches Out to Islam, China, Atheists
Pope Francis' first foreign policy address concentrates on bridge building
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 22, 2013 8:51 AM CDT
Pope Francis on March 17, 2013, gesturing as he delivers his Angelus prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican.    (Domenico Stinellis)

(Newser) – In his first foreign policy address as pope, Francis today called for more dialogue with Islam and offered an olive branch to China and other countries that don't have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The occasion was an audience with ambassadors from the 180 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, in which Francis explained he would work for peace, for the poor, and to "build bridges" between peoples. He noted that even his title "pontiff" means bridge-builder. Francis said it was important to intensify dialogue among different religions, "particularly dialogue with Islam," and to deepen the church's outreach to atheists.

Benedict had made improving relations with China a priority, given the millions of faithful who belong to China's underground Catholic Church, but tensions remain, particularly over the appointment of bishops. China insists on naming them, while the Vatican says only the pope can name bishops. China congratulated Francis for his election but said establishing formal relations would depend on the Vatican cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan and ceasing activities Beijing considers an interference in its internal affairs—a reference to bishops' appointments.