- Dec 10, 2019
Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria will be visiting Rome on Friday to foster ecumenism, dialogue with youth and also strengthen the Egyptian economy.
Pope Francis said on Wednesday that his April 28-29 trip to Egypt was intended as a “sign of peace” and a way of promoting a vision of “healthy secularism” for the entire Middle East region, in which religion and state are separate but religion is encouraged and allowed to flourish. He called on Christians in the Middle East to be “salt and light,” and prayed for new Christian martyrs.
Six years ago, a pope addressed Egypt, expressing outrage over an attack on a Christian church and calling for efforts against religious extremism, and the political and clerical establishment bristled. Now, Pope Francis came to Egypt and said much the same thing, and was embraced. One thing that seems to have changed is the mounting frustration of ordinary people here with terrorism and violence.
Although Pope Francis’s April 28-29 trip to Egypt will be extremely brief, barely more than 24 hours in the country, it’s among the riskiest outings of his papacy. On multiple fronts, from security and politics to Christian/Muslim relations and ecumenism, Francis faces hard choices on the trip that amount to striking the right balance between equally undesirable outcomes.
Father Rafic Greich, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, says in the wake of twin bombings at Coptic churches on Palm Sunday that left at least 46 people dead, the ‘real question’ in the country today isn’t security but the kind of education being delivered in mosques, and he has doubts that the ‘religious establishment’ in Egypt is seriously committed to change.
Although Pope Francis will be challenged to strike the right balance on Islam during his April 28-29 visit to Egypt, that’s not the only high-wire act awaiting him. He’ll also be expected to help shape Christian attitudes to the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seen as ‘Christian-friendly’ but with a dubious record on human rights and political freedom.