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Pope faces tough challenge in Egypt

HONG KONG (SE): Although Pope Francis has been assured that he will be welcomed warmly to Egypt for his April 28 to 30 visit, he is walking into anything but a calm and settled situation.

While the massacre of Christians at churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, April 9, has increased the warmth of the welcome being offered both by Christians and Muslims alike, it is also the source of greater tension at the al-Azhar University, which will host a peace conference in Cairo at which both the pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, have been invited to speak.

The famed al-Azhar University, long regarded in worldwide circles as well as at the Vatican as the seat of Islamic wisdom and orthodoxy, has come under criticism for its indecisive attitude in some of its courses towards the aberrant ideologies adopted by Jihadist terrorism.

For its part, the university has responded by insisting that it has always pushed the line that Sharia prohibits every kind of assault against human beings, irrespective of their religion and that Islam binds Muslims to protect all places of worship and to treat non-Muslims with kindness.

Fides reported the Supreme Council of the university as saying in a statement on April 18 that any teaching that acts as an incentive to terrorism is a distortion of Egypt’s history and a betrayal of the Egyptian conscience.

But the Copt Bishop Anba Antoios Aziz Mina told Fides that Pope Francis will be welcomed across the board, as his words assuring the Egyptian people that he would not consider delaying his trip were welcomed by all and sundry.

The bishop called suggestions that there are divisions in Egyptian society a manipulation, as in fact, he claims there is great unity among the people, Christian and Muslim alike.

He explained that the expressions of condolence Christians received from their Muslim brothers and sisters are proof of this and that ultimately it is the Muslim people who will protect the Christians.

He also reacted strongly to suggestions that the west must do something to protect Christians, asking, “Protect us from what?”

Bishop Mina explained that there is no state persecution that a foreign power could address and in fact the attacks on the Christian places of worship are attacks on the state, designed to destabilise it.

“We have no need of outside protection. All we need is not to be divided from our Muslim brothers. They are the ones who can defend us and we must help them and help the police resist these groups which sow death, hiding behind pseudo-religious ideologies,” the bishop said.

However, there is now a new dynamic on the block, as atheism, an almost unheard of phenomenon in the Arab world, has become an established reality in Egyptian society.

Eighty-six-year-old Father Henri Boulard explained that these people can no longer stomach a religion that supports the death penalty or acts as an instrument of violence.

Because there is nothing divine in this they simply want to dissociate themselves from it.

The Alexandria-born Jesuit added that they do not want fanaticism and are frustrated with liturgies that do not connect with what people do in the world.

Sadly, he said that those who have power today are not the ones who have taken from Islam what is compatible with life in a modern state or that allows them to live peacefully with other people.

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