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The pope of peace comes to the Egypt of peace

CAIRO (SE): “With a joyful and grateful heart I will come in a few days’ time to visit your dear homeland: cradle of civilisation, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality,” Pope Francis said to the people of Egypt prior to his arrival in Cairo on April 28.

He described it as a land where patriarchs and prophets lived and where God made his voice heard.

He added that he was coming as a friend, messenger of peace and a pilgrim to the country that more than 2,000 years ago gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family in its flight from King Herod.

The pope was warmly welcomed to the country with signs on the front of shops in Cairo proclaiming warm greetings to the pope and calling him a prophet of peace and good will.

He alternated between the roles of religious leader, prophet and politician during his two-day stay, embracing the Grand Imam of Al-Ashar, Sheik Ahmad Al-Tayeb, ministering to the small flock of Catholics in the country and chiding the president, Abdel-Fattah Al Sisi, for his suppression of dissent.

Although he also praised him for speaking out with charity for religious minorities, he told Al Sisi, “History does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.”

He also came as a comforter, paying a visit to the Coptic pope, Patriarch Tawadros II, at his cathedral where he was the target of a terrorist attack on Palm Sunday, April 9.

On the evening of the his first day in the land of pharaohs and pyramids, he embarked on an ecumenical journey, visiting the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, believed to have been founded by Mark the apostle.

He then prayed with the patriarch and priests of Orthodox and Catholic rite Churches at the spot where 28 people died in December last year at the hands of a terrorist attack, said to mark the beginning of a campaign by the Islamic State against Christians in Egypt.

Pope Francis called it an ecumenism of blood, saying that it is their blood which will unite us.

However, while the pope was welcomed, he was not given the opportunity to fraternise with the people in the streets, which is in direct contrast to his visits to other countries and even that of Pope John Paul II’s 2000 Egyptian voyage.

Although the Vatican spokesperson, Greg Burke, said prior to his arrival in Cairo that security would be as normal, he did add, “We are in a globalised world, security measures are high everywhere.”

In the event, security was extremely tight, with whole neighbourhoods the pope was visiting shut down completely in the city which has been on high alert since Palm Sunday when two churches were attacked.

The Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, Archbishop Anba Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, welcomed the pope, saying his presence in the country will be a source of great encouragement and spark a great spiritual drive. It will also crown the dialogue with our Muslim brothers.

He pointed out that the slogan and a logo for the visit included the pyramids, sphinx, a cross and a crescent, with well-chosen words, The pope of peace comes to the Egypt of peace.

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