The people of Egypt see Pope Francis as a “man of peace who resists terror and extremism with great courage and wisdom,” according to a priest in the country. Jesuit Father Bimal Kerketta from India is the principal of a French school in Cairo, and has lived in the country for 14 years.
Kerketta said “Egypt is a land of peace,” and the Muslim population “prefers peace because so far violence has not brought any solution to any problem.”
Before taking charge of his current school, the priest was principal of an Arabic language school in Minya, in Upper Egypt.
He told Crux the people of the country are impressed the pontiff is coming to Egypt so soon after the terrorist attacks at two Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, which killed dozens of people.
“People are still terrified and not secured, and they feel uneasy; and yet, he accepted this invitation and would like to go ahead,” the priest said.
“Pope Francis is a world leader who is known for his initiatives. especially in middle east countries that are troubled by civil war such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and neighbouring countries where there is unrest,” Kerketta said, “people look for peace, and they would like to have peace in their existence with each other, so in that way that is the expectation of the people.”
Christians make up about ten percent of the country’s 90 million people, and 90 percent of the Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was targeted in the Palm Sunday attack in Alexandria, but was unharmed.
The Catholics make up less than 200,000 people. The majority of them belong to the Catholic Coptic Church, although there are also Latin, Armenian, Maronite and Melkite Catholics in the country.
“Here, less people know about Catholicism, since they only know the Coptic Orthodox Church,” Kerketta said, “so it will be an eye opening for them.”
Tawadros and Francis, joined by the spiritual head of the Orthodox communion Patriarch Bartholomew, will attend an International Peace Conference in Cairo hosted by Al Azhar University, the most prominent institution in Sunni Islam.
“Pope Francis’s visit this week has special significance not only in promoting dialogue between Al Azhar and the Vatican, but also in strengthening the culture of peace and coexistence between followers of the two religions,” Kerketta said.
“Al Azhar, which is the Vatican of Sunni Islam, is the place where Muslims from all over the world come to study philosophy and theology, and it is here all the religious verdicts [fatwas] are issued. It is a significant point that this is where they will sit together and listen to the pope,” the priest said.
“For many Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike, the Catholic Pope is a man of peace who resists terror and extremism with great courage and wisdom, and that’s why he’s acquired special respect and love from Egyptians.”
Although security will be tight during the pope’s visit, Francis has refused to ride in a special armored car; however he will use a “golf cart,” rather than the open-air popemobile when he makes the rounds through the crowds at the Mass being celebrated at the air defense stadium on April 29.
“There are many inconveniences, and many challenges for the security and the government, yet we know he is coming and people are trying to work together,” he said. “It is a very positive sign that in the world we need peace. We need non-violence. We need understanding. We need dialogue. We need to listen to each other irrespective of religion.”