Pope Francis has urged Muslim leaders to unite in renouncing religious extremism during the first day of his 2-day trip to Egypt.
The visit, amid tight security, is aimed at promoting better ties between Muslim and Christian leaders and comes after two deadly attacks on Egyptian Coptic churches this month which left 45 people dead.
The Pope paid a courtesy call on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Friday. He also met with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University – one of the world’s leading Sunni Muslim institutions, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and representatives of the Catholic Church. He repeated his message that dialogue is the only way to overcome Islamic fundamentalists who’re persecuting Christians.
Along with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the Holy Father also addressed an international conference on peace in the Egyptian capital.
He paid tribute to the victims of the deadly attack in Cairo last December and offered his heartfelt condolences.
On Saturday, the Pope is due to celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community in Cairo and meet with bishops, clergy, religious and seminarians before returning to Rome.
The Pope has said that he sees the importance of strengthening co-operation between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox Christians in the face of so many threats to human life and creation. The Copts, who account for about 10% of Egypt’s population and are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, have come under increased attacks from Islamist terrorists as they’re considered soft targets.
The Cairo trip is the Pope’s 18th abroad in his four years as Pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second Pope to visit Egypt, after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.
The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population, which is 90 per cent Sunni Muslim.
Kwame Appiah with agency reports