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Pope Francis to visit Egypt on April 28-29: Vatican

Pope Francis is seen as a moderate compared to his predecessor [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2017

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Pope Francis will visit Cairo on April 28-29, the Vatican said on Saturday.
Pope Francis will visit Cairo on April 28-29, the Vatican said on Saturday.

The pontiff had hosted the grand imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, at the Vatican last May, in a landmark meeting with one of Islam's top clerics.

That encounter was the culmination of a steady improvement in a relationship that had broken down because of a series of spats under Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI.

The current pope has made interfaith dialogue and reconciliation a leading theme of his pontificate and has also overseen an improvement in relations with the Orthodox and Protestant wings of Christianity.

The Argentine pope has a long-standing invitation to visit Egypt from its president.

The Vatican said the pope was going also upon invitations from Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox church leader Pope Tawadros II and the grand imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib.

In May 2016, the imam came to the Vatican, where the pope embraced him. That meeting was seen as reopening an important channel for Catholic-Muslim dialogue after Al-Azhar had frozen relations with the Vatican. The freeze was triggered by demands by Benedict in 2011 for greater protection of Christians in Egypt following a New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 people.

During his visit Francis will meet with Egyptian leaders as well as with Egypt’s top Muslim cleric and with Tawadros.
Egypt's government has recently sought to reassure Egypt’s Christians, promising them equality and protection.

Last month, the Vatican’s point man on Muslim relations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, participated in a conference at Al-Azhar focused on how Muslim and Catholic leaders can work to counter fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.

Pope Francis has stressed working for reconciliation and overcoming divisions among all peoples as urgent goals of his four-year-old papacy.

In contrast, Vatican relations with much of the Muslim world suffered early in Benedict’s papacy, when, during a speech in 2006 in his native Germany, he spoke about Islam’s relation to violence.

Most of Egypt’s Christians are members of the Orthodox church led by Tawadros. Christians overall are believed to account for about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people.

Christians often complain of discrimination, citing their apparent exclusion from top positions in the security services, academia and the diplomatic service.

Egypt's government has recently sought to reassure Egypt’s Christians, promising them equality and protection.

But a series of brutal killings of Christians recently in northern Sinai claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State has forced hundreds of Christians to flee the area in search of safety elsewhere in Egypt.

The IS group also claimed a suicide bombing in December that targeted a packed Orthodox church in the heart of Cairo, killing about 30, mostly women, during a morning service.

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