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Greg Burke -- Copyright: Zenit

‘Egypt: Pastoral, Ecumenical and Interreligious Journey,’ Says Greg Burke

The program of Pope Francis in Cairo (April 28-29)

The Pope’s trip to Egypt has three dimensions, explains Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke: “A pastoral dimension, with the Catholic community, although small, an ecumenical dimension, with Orthodox Coptic Christians, and an interreligious dimension, with Muslims.”

The head of the Holy See press office held a press briefing on Monday, April 24, 2017, at 1 pm in the Vatican to comment on the stages of the Pope’s trip to Cairo later this week, April 28-29.

He recalled that this will be the 18th apostolic journey of Pope Francis out of Italy, and the 27th country visited, and this is the second time that a pope goes to Egypt, after the visit of John Paul II in year 2000.

The Pope, the spokesman said, was invited by President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the great Imam of al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayeb, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and by the Catholic bishops.

The press questioned Greg Burke on security: he spoke about the measures taken for the London Marathon on Sunday, April 23: “We are in a globalized world, security measures are high everywhere.”

He refused to use the word “concern” but added, “We live in a world in which the danger of attacks is part of life”. The measures taken are therefore, those of the other numerous voyages.

Therefore, the Pope will use a “normal” car, as the Pope “wanted”. The security forces in the Vatican are “always the same” and the local authorities insist that “everything goes well.”

Program of the first day, Friday 28 April

In all, the Pope will speak five times, said Greg Burke: the first speech will take place at an international conference on peace in Al-Azhar, for which few details are known; the second, during the visit to Tawadros II; the third, before the authorities of the nation; the fourth, the homily of the Mass with the Catholics and last, his discourse before clergy and the consecrated.

When asked by ZENIT if the Holy Father may hold a question and answer session or hear confessions during the meeting with clergy, the Vatican press office director said that the Pope often is spontaneous at these types of encounters, however, as of now, he is expected to deliver his address, and we will see whether he follows it.

During his journey, the Pope will be accompanied by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, Cardinals Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches and Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Unity, and Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt, Bishop Bruno Musaró. The interpreter of the Pope will be his private secretary, official of the secretariat of state, Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, a Catholic Coptic priest of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Egypt, Greg Burke also noted, has some 90 million inhabitants, a majority of whom, at least 85%, are Muslims. About 10% of the population are Orthodox Coptic Christians, and the Catholics, who are broken up between Coptic Catholics and different rites: Coptic, Latin, Armenian , Melkite, Maronite, Syro-Catholic, etc., make up less than 1% of the population.Their bishops are gathered in the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy presided over by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak.

The journey is “fairly simple”, the director of the Press Room remarked: Pope Francis arrives in Cairo, has the welcome ceremony at the presidential palace of Heliopolis, the courtesy visit to the President of the Republic and then the visit to the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, and the exchange of gifts.

Within the walls of Al-Azhar University, the Pope will participate in an international conference on peace: the speech of the great Imam will be followed by that of the Pope. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be with the Pope on this occasion.

Pope Francis will then meet with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II: after the two speeches, they will pray together in the Church of St. Peter for the victims of recent anti-Christian attacks.

Pope Francis will go to the nunciature for the night, and before dinner, he will greet children and a group of young people from all over the country. He may give greetings from his balcony, but this has yet to be seen.

Saturday, April 29, Second Day

The second day will begin with Mass with Catholics at the military aeronautics stadium. Although it takes place in the morning, it liturgically will count as Sunday Mass.

The Pope is expected to greet the crowds by circling the stadium in an electric car. At the end of the Mass, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch, Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, will address the Pope.

The Pope will then have lunch with the Egyptian Catholic bishops and his entourage.

In the afternoon, the Pope has an appointment with the clergy and consecrated them for a time of prayer. The Pope will bless the clothes of the consecrated future.

The Pope will then go to the airport to return to Rome.

With Anita Bourdin and Deborah Castellano Lubov

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