Pope Francis, in an unscripted moment during his address at St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday night, wished Muslims a happy Eid and offered sympathy for the hundreds of pilgrims who died in a stampede in Mecca.
"I am thinking of them," the pontiff said. "I'm close to them in the face of the tragedy that they suffered in Mecca."
Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of two feast festivals in the Islamic year and a time when many make the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. More than 700 pilgrims were killed on Thursday when a stampede broke out just outside the holy city.
Mecca has witnessed numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots over the years, but Thursday's tragedy was the worst to hit the hajj pilgrimage in 25 years.
Muslim activist Linda Sarsour said Francis's remarks demonstrated his welcoming attitude toward an often-maligned faith.
"Pope Francis epitomizes love and dignity for all," Sarsour told The Huffington Post. "While many leaders have turned their backs on Muslims and choose to vilify and ostracize our communities and our faith, the pope opens his heart to us and reminds the world of our shared humanity."
Sarsour will be among faith leaders participating in an interfaith prayer service with Pope Francis at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York on Friday. The pontiff will meet with relatives of those who died in the terrorist attacks and take part in a service with representatives from a wide range of faiths.
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