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Pope Francis in Egypt on historic visit
April 29, 2017, 3:57 pm

Pope Francis started a historic two-day official visit to Egypt on Friday, 28 April, by holding talks with Egyptian President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi on means of boosting ties between Cairo and the Vatican, and on reinforcing inter-religious dialogue and supporting tolerance.

The papal visit comes upon an invitation from President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi, who met Pope Francis when he visited the Vatican in late 2014. The visit also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Egyptian-Vatican relations, which dates back to 1947.

An official statement form the Egyptian Presidency stated that President Al-Sisi hosted Pope Francis in a bilateral meeting, followed with another one including members of the Pope's delegation and Egyptian officials. During the meetings, President Al-Sisi lauded the Pope for making this significant visit to the nation amid hard circumstances prevailing across the world. For his part, the Pope reciprocated by expressing his happiness in visiting Egypt, noting the nation's grand contributions to the human race and its advocacy of peace.

Moreover, the Pope underlined Egypt's significant role in resolving complex issues in the Middle East and declared support for Cairo in its efforts against violence and terrorism. In his reply, the Egyptian President assured the Pope that Egypt would continue to adopt moderate Islam, emphasizing that the Christians are an inseparable part of the Egyptian national social fabric. The State deals with all segments of the society based on citizenship, constitutional and legal rights, stressed the president.

During his two-day stay in Cairo, the Pope is scheduled to celebrate Mass, participate in a Conference for Peace to be organized by Al-Azhar mosque and university, one of the most influential centers of Sunni Islamic learning. He will also meet with clergy and with the Egyptian Christian community.

On Saturday, at the Conference for Peace, the Pope warned against wrapping violence and terror in the garb of religion. He said: “As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity,” adding, “we have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.” For his part the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, urged the West not to hold an entire religion “accountable for the crimes of any small group of followers.”

In his meeting with the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch, Tawadros II, Pope Francis said in reference to the Palm Sunday attack on the Orthodox Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria that claimed the lives of nearly 50 worshippers that their ever-closer bond was “sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.” He added, “Their innocent blood unites us.”

Reflecting the strong bilateral ties, Egypt and the Vatican formed a joint dialogue committee in 1998. This was followed by several high-profile visits between Cairo and the Holy See.  On 24 February, 2000, Pope John Paul II paid the first every papal visit to Egypt and received a warm welcome from the government and Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians alike. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak paid a visit to Vatican on 13 March, 2006 and met Pope Benedict XVI and discussed bilateral relations and several of key issues of mutual concern such as the future of peace in the Middle East.

In May 2016, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar visited the Vatican, where the pope embraced him. During their meeting, they focused on their mutual efforts to foster inter-religious dialogue, peaceful coexistence and tolerance. On July 16, 2016, a delegation from the Vatican visited Egypt where they discussed launching an international initiative for interfaith dialogue and proposed organization of an international conference for dialogue among civilizations in 2019.

In a letter to the Egyptians published by the Catholic Church in Egypt, Pope Francis said that he hoped the visit would contribute to dialogue among faiths. Both Egypt and Vatican share the same stances over a several key religious and political issues, particularly the importance of the Muslim-Christian dialogue, countering extremism and peace in the Middle East.









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