CAIRO – 29 April 2017: Pope Francis concluded his two-day visit to Egypt with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi bidding farewell to the Roman Catholic leader at Cairo Airport at the end of the visit.
The Pope started his visit by meeting the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, as he urged leaders of all religions to denounce violence and terror acts committed under God’s name.
Pope Francis’ speech at Al-Azhar stressed that, “The future principally relies on the dialogue between all religions.”
Francis opened his speech with "As-Salaam Alaikum"
, the traditional Arabic Muslim greeting that translates to "Peace be upon you".
He elaborated on the importance of unity between Muslims and Christians to shape world peace.
“Let us say, once and for all, ‘’no’’, to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” the Pope said in his native Italian tongue during the speech.
The visit had an aim to foster reconciliation with the Muslim world following recent attacks against the Middle East’s biggest Christian community.
It marks Pope Francis as the first pontiff to visit Al-Azhar institution since Pope John Paul II in 2000.
The Pope's visit, which deployed high security measures, comes three weeks after the bombings at two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday that claimed at least 45 casualties.
The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group claimed responsibility for the Palm Sunday attacks as well as a bombing which killed 28 people at Egypt's main cathedral before Christmas.
After the peace conference at Al-Azhar, the Pope and al-Sisi arrived at Al-Masa Hotel.
Pope Francis, during his speech at the hotel, emphasized Egypt's role in fighting terrorism in the region, highlighting its pacifist role, citing some milestones from its biblical and modern history.
“Egypt has a duty to enforce peace upon the region, despite being wounded on its own land, due to extremism and violence that deprived families of their beloved,” Pope Francis said.
“A civilization cannot be built without eradicating evil,” he added.
Upon his arrival in Cairo, the Pope was received at Cairo airport by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and top Christian clerics.
President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi received the Catholic pontiff at the presidential Ittihadya palace, giving him an official welcome, accompanied with a military band playing the national anthems of the Vatican and Egypt.
The 80-year-old pontiff highlighted the sacrifice of members of the army and the police, the forced exodus of Christians from Sinai and the latest church bombings. Moreover, he stressed respect for human rights and religious freedoms.
The pope stressed, “It is essential to block the flow of money and weapons bound for those who promote violence, which purports to be carried out in the name of the Sacred.”
Following his speech at the hotel, local news outlets reported that Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, received Pope Francis at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo's Abbassiya district.
Francis commended the efforts of Tawadros II, whom he called a brother, in organizing meetings between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II signed a joint cooperation protocol of reiterating the fraternity between their churches.
"The tragic experiences and the bloodshed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation," Pope Francis said during his speech at the church.
“The innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us,” he added.
On Saturday, Pope Francis arrived at the Seminary College of Coptic Catholics in Maadi district, south of Cairo, to meet with representatives of Coptic churches, on the second day of his official visit to Egypt.
Pope Francis’s second and last day in Egypt started with the holy mass held at the Air Defense Stadium in New Cairo.
The pope delivered a sermon and blessed the attendees who arrived from all over the country.
The mass witnessed the presence of 25,000 citizens from all over the country, as well as a number of public and political figures, ambassadors, politicians and diplomats.
Pope Francis arrived in a convertible Golf car and toured the stadium in a resplendent reception ceremony before commencing his holy sermon.
The visit marks the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Egypt and the Vatican.
Here are nine quotes from the Pope’s visit to Cairo:
- Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of drawing out of men and women the very best of themselves
- Young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history; they can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.
- Let us say, once and for all: No, to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God
- It is essential to block the flow of money and weapons bound for those who promote violence, which purports to be carried out in the name of the Sacred
- Religious leaders have a duty to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity
- We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights
- We are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states
- The Church and Al-Azhar are united in the face of terrorism
- Priests, religious and seminarians are to be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue, despite the many difficulties they face.
In a common declaration, signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Catholics and Copts declare for the first time that they will recognize each other’s sacrament of baptism.