Pope Francis will visit Egypt April 28-29, the Vatican has said, giving the pontiff another opportunity to promote better relations between Catholics and Muslims.
A statement from Greg Burke, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that Pope Francis will visit Egypt in late April.
“In response to the invitation from the President of the Republic, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt from 28 to 29 April 2017, visiting the city of Cairo,” the statement read.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Sisi issued a statement on the Pope’s forthcoming visit.
“Egypt welcomes Pope Francis and looks forward to this significant visit to strengthen peace, tolerance and inter-faith dialogue as well as to reject the abhorrent acts of terrorism and extremism,” Sisi said.
Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Sectarian violence sometimes erupts over disputes on issues related to church building, religious conversions and interfaith relationships.
Francis has put great emphasis on improving inter-faith relations since his election in 2013, and a year ago he met the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb in the Vatican.
That meeting unfroze relations after Al-Azhar, a 1,000-year-old mosque and university center, cut contacts with the Vatican in 2011 over what it said were repeated insults towards Islam from Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict.
Benedict had denounced what he called ‘a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target’ following a bomb attack outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that killed 23 people.
A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49 in December.
Pope Francis has urged an end to what he called a ‘genocide’ against Christians in the Middle East, but he has also said it is wrong to equate Islam with violence.