Sat, Apr 29, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Pope Francis in Egypt to mend ties with Islam

Reuters, CAIRO

A member of the Coptic clergy wearing a vestment with the picture of Pope Francis attends Mass in Cairo yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis yesterday arrived in Cairo hoping to mend ties with Muslim religious leaders just as Egypt’s ancient Christian community faces unprecedented pressure from Islamic State militants who have threatened to wipe it out.

In an address to Egyptians this week, Francis spoke of his hope that his visit would help bring peace, and encourage dialogue and reconciliation with the Islamic world.

However, it comes at a painful time for Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, three weeks after Islamic State suicide bombers killed 45 people in twin church bombings.

Those attacks followed a cathedral bombing in December last year that killed 28 people and a spree of murders that has forced hundreds of Christians to flee North Sinai, where the group is most active.

Despite the security threat hanging over Francis’ visit, the pope was to use an ordinary car during his 27 hours in Cairo, continuing his practice of shunning armored limousines to be closer to people.

Streets near the Vatican embassy in Cairo and other sites have been cleared of cars and blocked off, and pedestrians have not been allowed to linger.

“After all the pain we have experienced ... we are satisfied and confident that the state is taking strong security measures to prevent terrorism and protect churches,” said Father Boulos Halim, spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox Church to which the majority of Egypt’s Christians belong. “It’s in the state’s interests to protect its nationals and the Copts are not an independent people, they are part and parcel of the nation itself.”

Francis was to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi; Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the world’s most influential seat of Sunni Islamic theology and learning; and Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who narrowly escaped a church bombing in Alexandria on Palm Sunday.

Francis was expected to give his key address to a conference on religious dialogue at al-Azhar, part of efforts to improve relations with the 1,000-year-old center after Egyptian Muslim leaders cut ties in 2011 over what they said were repeated insults against Islam by former pope Benedict.

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