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Pope Francis to visit Egypt in April

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Accepting an invitation from Egypt’s president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29.

In response to an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, “Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt,” the Vatican announced March 18.

Pope Francis accepts an icon of Mary and the Christ Child from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2015 at the Vatican. Accepting an invitation from Egypt's president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis accepts an icon of Mary and the Christ Child from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2015 at the Vatican. Accepting an invitation from Egypt’s president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

While saying details of the trip would be published soon, the announcement said the two-day trip would be focused on Cairo, the capital city.

It will be the pope’s 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.

The invitation came amid increasingly closer relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar, which is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam.

El-Tayeb visited the pope at the Vatican in May 2016, the first time the grand imam of al-Azhar was received by the pope in a private meeting at the Vatican.

The pope later told reporters that in his 30-minute discussion with the grand imam, it was clear that “they are looking for peace, for encounter.”

“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence,” the pope told reporters. “This is not right and it is not true.”

Pope Francis also has upheld the importance of strengthened cooperation between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox Christians. In the face of so many challenges, he has said, “Copts and Catholics are called to offer a common response founded upon the Gospel” and give a shared witness to the sanctity of human life, family life and creation.

Given the increased persecution against Christians, the pope has told Coptic Pope Tawadros, “Today more than ever we are united by the ecumenism of blood, which further encourages us on the path toward peace and reconciliation.”

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Pope Francis condemns deadly terrorist attack on Cairo cathedral

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis phoned Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria Dec. 12, expressing his prayers and condolences for the previous day’s terrorist attack at the Cairo cathedral that left 25 people dead.

“We are united in the blood of our martyrs,” the pope told the Orthodox patriarch, according to a Vatican statement.

A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Dec. 11 after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Dec. 11 after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

The patriarch thanked Pope Francis for his closeness at such a sad time and asked his continued prayers for the Copts and for peace in Egypt, the statement said.

On a December weekend bloodied by terrorist attacks in Egypt and Turkey, Pope Francis condemned the violence and urged people to hold fast to their faith and renew their commitment to upholding basic human values.

After reciting the Angelus Dec. 11, Pope Francis offered prayers for the “victims of savage terrorist attacks” in Egypt, which also wounded dozens, and Dec. 10 in Istanbul, which killed close to 40 people, mainly police.

“The places are different, but the violence is the same,” Pope Francis said. In response to the “death and destruction,” there is only one response: “faith in God and unity in human and civil values.”

The pope also told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that each day in prayer he is close to the people of the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria.

“We must not forget that Aleppo is a city and that there are people there: families, children, elderly, sick,” he said. “Unfortunately we have become used to the war and destruction, but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, culture and faith. We cannot allow this to be negated by war, which is a pile of abuse and falsity.”

Around the world, Christians reacted to the bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex with messages of condolences.

In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that St. Mark himself was no stranger to the persecution of Christians.

“Those who gathered to worship the Lord at his cathedral this morning in Cairo are family to us,” he said in a Dec. 11 statement. “We draw near to our Coptic brothers and sisters in prayer, sorrow and comfort. And we are confident in the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The lives lost strengthen the faith of Christians everywhere and offer a testament to the great privilege of worshiping God in peace.”

He, too, referred to attacks in other countries.

“This weekend has witnessed the darkness of violence reach into many places, including Turkey, Somalia and the church building collapse in Nigeria. But the light still shines! Today let us offer a special prayer for all those facing persecution,” he said.

Egyptian Catholics were quick to condemn Sunday’s church attack.

“Our heart is with Patriarch Tawadros II … and our brother church, and we wish for goodness in Egypt, and call on the heads of state to quickly bring those responsible to justice,” said official spokesman of Egypt’s Catholics, Father Rafic Greiche.

Father Greiche called the attack “a cowardly, terrorist act on a house of God,” adding that “the church in our country is suffering due to the murder and spilling of blood of innocents.”

His statements appeared on Church of Alexandria, an official website of Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church, which accounts for a tiny percentage of the country’s larger Coptic Orthodox minority.

On the same site, Coptic Catholic Bishop Butros Fahim Awad Hanna also condemned the attack and addressed those behind it.

“We tell the terrorist that no matter what you do, Christians will remain steadfast in their faith and in adherence to their country, Egypt” said Bishop Fahim, whose province of Minya is a traditional Christian stronghold in the predominantly Muslim North African nation.

Egyptian TV showed horrific images of the attack’s aftermath: toppled pews and floors stained and covered in blood.

“I thought it was Judgment Day,” said 59-year-old Magdi Ramzi, who was in the back of the church at the time of the explosion.

“It was the loudest noise I have ever heard,” he told an Egyptian TV program.

The bomb, which reportedly detonated in the women-only section of the church, killed his wife, and gravely wounded his granddaughter who was fighting for her life in a Cairo hospital, Ramzi said.

In Jerusalem, Wadie Abunassar, director of the Media Committee of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, called the attacks “barbaric.”

“I was contacting my Turkish friends to express my solidarity with them after (Saturday night’s) attack when I got the news about the explosion inside the church (Sunday morning.) Surely those who are responsible for such barbaric attacks do not know who God is and what his messages are,” he said.

Father Antonious Aloshlemey, general secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, expressed condolences about the attack.

“We are not afraid, but this is something barbaric and inhuman, to do an attack against people who just love the church and God and who came to worship on Sunday,” he said.

 

Contributing to this story were Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem and James Martone in Washington.

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Pope meets with grand imam of Sunni Muslim university

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — After five years of tension and top-level silence, Pope Francis and the grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world embraced at the Vatican May 23.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

“The meeting is the message,” the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.

El-Tayeb’s spring visit was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.

Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

In February, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a letter to el-Tayeb from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, council president, inviting him to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Ayuso welcomed the imam to the Vatican May 23 and accompanied him to the papal meeting.

Pope Francis sat to the side of his desk facing the grand imam rather than behind his desk as he customarily does when meeting with a visiting head of state.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope spoke privately with el-Tayeb for 25 minutes and the conversation included a discussion about “the great significance of this new encounter within the scope of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.”

“They then dwelled upon the common commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for world peace, the rejection of violence and terrorism (and) the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East as well as their protection,” Father Lombardi said in a statement.

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis presented the grand imam with two gifts: a copy of his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and peace medallion depicting an olive tree holding together two pieces of a fractured rock.

After meeting the pope, the grand imam was scheduled to travel to Paris to open the second international conference on “East and West: Dialogue of Civilizations” May 24 sponsored by al-Azhar University and the Catholic Sant’Egidio Community.

 

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