ROME — Pope Francis has sent a video message to the people of Egypt ahead of this weekend’s two day visit to the country, saying he hopes his trip “will make a fruitful contribution to interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerable and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.”
On Friday, April 28, the pope will participate in an international peace conference taking place at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which is the most prominent institution in the Sunni world.
Francis will join Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the worldwide Orthodox Communion (which does not include the Coptic Church), to present a united Christian front at the meeting, which Al-Azhar said was called to encourage “respect instead of rejecting each other, to live in peace instead of fighting, and to tolerate instead of being fanatical.”
On Saturday, April 29, Francis will celebrate Mass for the local Catholic community before flying home to Rome in the late afternoon.
In his video message, released on Tuesday, the pope said he was coming as “a friend, as a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim” to Egypt.
He noted Egypt was “the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard,” and was the place which “gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod.
“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,” Francis said. “I would also hope that my visit will make a fruitful contribution to interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerable and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.”
Francis also referenced a spate of violence which has left dozens of people dead over the past weeks in Egypt, including twin bombings at two churches in Tanta and Alexandria, which left at least 45 people dead.
Egyptian police later arrested 13 people who were planning attacks against Christians and public institutions in the country.
“Our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land,” the pontiff said in his video message.
“Our world needs peace, love and mercy,” Francis continued, “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.”
Pope Francis will show his solidarity with the victims of anti-Christian violence on Friday, when he and Tawadros will visit the church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which had been bombed during a Mass in December 2016, leaving 24 people dead and dozens of others injured.
The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, on Monday said that although heavy security is the “new normal,” Francis will not use an armored car during his visit to Egypt.