Pope Francis extends wishes to Rome's Jews for Passover

Pope Francis on Monday extended his wishes to Rome's chief rabbi and his followers in a gesture to strengthen relations between Catholicism and Judaism as the world's Jews began their week-long celebration of Passover.

In his message to Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the pope said he hoped "that the Almighty, who freed his people from slavery in Egypt by guiding them to the Holy Land, continues to free them from all evil and accompany them with his blessing".

The passage refers to the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew bible, which recounts the origins of Passover as the Jews fled Egypt by crossing the Red Sea to reach the Promised Land.

"I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you my prayer, confident of being able to deepen the bonds of mutual respect and friendship," he said in the statement made public by Rome's Jewish community.

Since his papal appointment on March 13, Pope Francis has reached out to the Jewish community on several occasions.

A large delegation of rabbis attended the pontificate's inaugural mass on March 19, underscoring the strong ties between the two religions.

Under his predecessors, late pope John Paul II and "pope emeritus" Benedict XVI -- who stunned the world by becoming the first pope to resign in 700 years -- Jews and Catholics were also considered as brothers "in faith".

In contrast, the Muslim delegation was represented only by lower-rank figures at Pope Francis's inauguration mass, illustrating the strained relationship between the two faiths.

Last week however, the pope called for the Roman Catholic Church to "intensify" its dialogue with Islam, echoing hopes in the Muslim world for better ties with the Vatican during his reign.