In a video message to the people of Egypt ahead of his Apostolic Journey to the country on Friday and Saturday 28 – 29 April, Pope Francis said:
“Dear People of Egypt, As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!
“With a heart full of joy and gratitude I will soon visit your beloved country, the cradle of civilization, the gift of the Nile, the land of sun and hospitality, the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard.
“I am truly happy to be coming as a friend, as a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim to the country that, over two thousand years ago, gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod (cf. Mt 2:10-16). I am honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family!
“I greet all of you warmly and I thank you for your invitation to visit Egypt, which you call ‘Umm al-Dunia – Mother of the universe!
“I offer heartfelt thanks to the President of the Republic, to His Holiness Patriarch Tawadros II, to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, and to the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch, all of whom invited me. I also thank each of you for opening your hearts to me, and in particular all those who worked so hard to make this journey possible.
“I would like this visit to be a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East, a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world, in which Egypt holds so important a place. I would also hope that my visit would make a fruitful contribution to interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerable and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.
“Our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land. Our world needs peace, love and mercy. It needs peacemakers, people who are free and who set others free, men and women of courage who can learn from the past in order to build the future, free of every form of prejudice. Our world needs people who can build bridges of peace, dialogue, fraternity, justice and humanity.
“Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and old, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor… I embrace you warmly and I ask Almighty God to bless you and protect your country from every evil.
“Please pray for me! Shukran wa Tahiaì Misr! (Thank you and Long Live Egypt).”
President Sisi’s valued guest
Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt comes upon invitation from President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Ishaq and the Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican on 6 February, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
Egypt’s presidential statement said that: “Egypt welcomes its valued guest, and affirms that it is looking forward to this visit as a message of peace, tolerance and dialogue between all mankind from all religions.” The statement said that President Sisi, who met the Pope during a 2014 visit to the Vatican, holds Pope Francis in high regard and admires his moral and spiritual stature as well as his courageous stances on a number of international issues.”
Pope Francis’s visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relationships between Egypt and the Vatican.
Pope Francis’s visit to al-Azhar, the world’s foremost authority on Sunni Islam, and his meeting with its Grand Imam Sheikh Dr al-Tayyeb, marks a resumption of dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican following a six-year freeze. At the time, the then Pope Benedict XVI had condemned the bombing of Alexandria’s church of the Saints; the bombing killed 23 Copts and injured scores as they left church after Midnight service on New Year Eve 2011. Al-Azhar had accused the Vatican at the time of alleging that religious minorities faced discrimination by Muslims in the Middle East.
In May 2016, relations between the two religious bodies started to improve when Pope Francis met Grand Imam al-Tayyeb in Rome.
Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros: Brotherly love
The Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had visited Pope Francis in Rome in May 2013, the first such visit in 40 years. The one that preceded it had taken place in 1973 when Pope Shenouda III visited Pope Paul VI; this in turn was the first meeting between the two Churches since the great rift that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Pope Francis had described the 2013 visit by Pope Tawadros as “an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mistrust.”
“May this visit of love and brotherhood,” Pope Tawadros had said, “be the first of a long series between our two great Churches.” He proposed that the date 10 May would be celebrated each year as the Day of Brotherly Love between the two Churches, “so that we may be always reminded that we have already solidly embarked on the path of unity.”
26 April 2017