Pope Francis speaks of 'mutual respect' in personal message to Muslims

Pope Francis has taken the unusual step of sending a personal message to Muslims on the feast of Eid al-Fitr.

In it, he calls for "mutual respect" and an "attitude of kindness" as a means to growing "sincere and lasting friendship".

The Eid message is normally sent by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and only John Paul II before him sent a personal message in 1991. 

In the message sent on Friday, Pope Francis said: "We are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values.

"I have decided to sign this traditional message myself and to send it to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.

"We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief."

The Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, Kevin McDonald, welcomed the message, saying it was especially important for the UK in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

"That terrible event sowed the seeds of deep conviction about the need to build a new kind of culture in which religions work together in mutual respect to bring about a new situation - one characterised by commitment to one another and to the common good," said the Archbishop, who is also chair of the Bishops' Conference Office for Interreligious Dialogue.

"The message of Pope Francis is a great encouragement as we seek to respond to this great challenge of our times."