Main focus of Pope Francis’s visit was violence against Christians; trip included visit to Cairo’s 1,000 year old Al- Azhar mosque.
Pope Francis made his much-awaited trip to Egypt on Friday, amidst fears of safety and security. Having touched Cairo first, the Pope visited the president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, followed by a historic visit to the grand imam of Cairo, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The Pope’s visit comes at a most precarious time for Egypt’s Christian population. Made up mostly of Coptic Christians, the Christian population of the country has been facing a lot of persecution at the hands of both, the Egyptian government, and more recently, Islamic extremists. The community was already suffering from heavy discrimination by the government, who would not even allow them to build churches so easily. Now, the Copts live in fear of their lives after the rise in bombings and violent attacks they have been facing. Recently, a twin bombing on Palm Sunday left more than 45 dead, and many more injured.
Following this attack, speculations were made that the Pope would cancel his visit for security reasons. Surprisingly, the attacks only redoubled the pontiff's desire to visit the nation. In fact, the persecution of Christians was one of the main focuses of this visit.
"The only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity. Any other fanaticism does not come from God" Pope Francis speaking in Egypt 29/4
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The highlight of the Pope's trip was the visit to the Al-Azhar mosque of Cairo. Al-Azhar has been the seat of learning and education for Sunni Islam for around a 1,000 years now. The grand imam of the mosque is also considered to be the head of Sunni Muslims all over the world. The Pope's visit to the cleric was attended by other Muslim and Christian clerics.
Pope Francis called on the religious leaders gathered at the event to condemn the extremists and build a community that is based on every religion's true teachings of peace and unity. The grand imam echoed Francis’s views, saying that Muslim leaders have a greater responsibility today to protect Muslims from the false interpretations of the scriptures and to put an end to the desire to spread hate and violence that is shrouded in religious piety.
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The Pope also visited the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, and together with the leader of the global Orthodox Christian community, Patriarch Bartholomew I, conducted a prayer service at St Peter’s church, the site of December 30’s suicide bombing.
Egypt's Christians hope that the Pope's visit will help alleviate the sufferings they go through in the country, despite the president's frequent condemnation of terrorism.