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Pope tells Egyptians his visit will be sign of friendship, peace

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Praying that God would protect Egypt from all evil, Pope Francis told the nation’s people that a world torn apart by indiscriminate violence needs courageous builders of peace, dialogue and justice.

“I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world,” the pope said in a video message broadcast April 25, ahead of his April 28-29 trip to Cairo.

A cross above a church is seen alongside minarets of a mosque April 17 in Cairo ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit. (CNSAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

A cross above a church is seen alongside minarets of a mosque April 17 in Cairo ahead of Pope Francis’ April 28-29 visit. (CNSAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

“I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church,” he said.

The pope thanked all those who invited him to Egypt, those who were working to make the trip possible and those “who make space for me in your hearts.”

He said he was “truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave, more than 2,000 years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod.”

“Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land, needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity,” he said.

Honored to visit the land visited by the Holy Family, the pope asked everyone for their prayers as he assured every one of his.

“Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor … I embrace you warmly and ask God almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil.”

He said it was “with a joyful and grateful heart” that he was heading to Egypt, the “cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where patriarchs and prophets lived” and where God — benevolent, merciful, and the one and almighty — made his voice heard.

The day the video was released, April 25, was also the feast day of St. Mark, who evangelized the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, Egypt, before being martyred there.

Pope Francis dedicated his morning Mass to
“my brother Tawadros II, patriarch of Alexandria” of the Coptic Orthodox church, asking that God abundantly “bless our two churches.”

In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Egypt would welcome the pope and “looks forward to this significant visit to strengthen peace, tolerance and interfaith dialogue as well as to reject the abhorrent acts of terrorism and extremism.”

Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq struggle with mounting pressures from extremists challenging their religious identity and the right to practice their faith and continue to exist in their ancestral homelands.

Pope Francis has urged an end to what he called a “genocide” against Christians in the Middle East, but he also has said it was wrong to equate Islam with violence.

Christians are among the oldest religious communities in the Middle East, but their numbers are dwindling in the face of conflict and persecution. Egypt’s Christian community makes up about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people.

A high point in the pope’s schedule is an international peace conference at Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the world’s highest authority on Sunni Islam, hosted by Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of the educational institution.

Pope Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, are also expected to participate.

The pope will also meet separately with el-Sissi and other officials. Observers will be watching whether the pope will take on thorny issues with his hosts, such as the detention of thousands of Egyptians, without due process, simply held on suspicion of opposing el-Sissi.

Others will watch to see if Pope Francis prods the Sunni Muslim religious establishment to take a more forceful stand on religious extremism perpetrated in the name of God.

Many hope the al-Azhar meeting will sound a moral wake-up call to leaders worldwide to combat religious intolerance while seeking greater cooperation to fight growing threats by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

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Tight security is the ‘new normal’ as Pope Francis heads to Egypt

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis planned to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

Heightened security is part of the “new normal” in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope’s desire “to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness” to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24. Read more »

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Pope Francis to visit Egypt in April

By

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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