Pope Francis has wrapped up the first day of his visit to Egypt this weekend, April 28-29. This marks his 18th apostolic journey out of Italy and 27th country visited. It also marks the second time that a Pope goes to the north African nation, after the visit of St. Pope John Paul II in 2000.
The Pope was invited to the country by President Abdel-Fattah al Sisi, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayeb, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and by the Catholic bishops.
During the press conference before arriving, Francis thanked the journalists for their work and warned them of the intense days ahead.
The Pope gave three speeches during his first day: the first at an international conference on peace in Al-Azhar; the second, before the authorities of the nation; and the third to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II.
During his journey, the Pope was 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 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.
Pope Francis arrived in Cairo. The welcome ceremony took place at the presidential palace of Heliopolis, where he had a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic. Then he visited the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, and they exchanged gifts.
Within the walls of Al-Azhar University, the Pope participated in an international conference on peace. The speech of the Grand Imam was followed by that of the Pope.
The Pope called on all religious leaders to reject radicalism and said “violence is a negation of every authentic religious experience.” He thanked them for various contributions and reminded them that Muslims and Christians “are under the sun of the same God.”
During his later meeting with authorities, Francis underscored: “Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence.”
Pope Francis then met with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II. In his address to Tawadros, he recalled how all Christians are united by the ‘ecumenism of blood.’ After the discourses, they prayed together in the Church of St. Peter for the victims of recent anti-Christian attacks. They also signed a common declaration divided into 12 points.
Pope Francis went to the nunciature for the night, and before dinner, he greeted children and a group of young people from all over the country.
Moving around the city, Pope Francis used a “normal” car, as he wished.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Pope’s Words to Journalists on Flight to Egypt: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-words-to-journalists-during-flight-to-egypt/
Pope’s Address to Pope Tawadros II: https://zenit.org/articles/pope-francis-address-to-coptic-orthodox-patriarch-pope-tawadros-ii/
Common Declaration of Pope Francis & Pope Tawadros II: https://zenit.org/articles/common-declaration-of-pope-francis-coptic-orthodox-patriarch-s-s-tawadros-ii/
Pope’s Full Program: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-program-for-egypt-visit-today/