Pope Francis will make a trip to Egypt next month, the Vatican said today, giving the pontiff another opportunity to promote better relations between Catholics and Muslims.
Francis has accepted an invitation to visit Cairo on 28-29 April from President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Catholic bishops, the pope of the Coptic church of Alexandria and the country’s highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, the Vatican said in a statement.
Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for under a tenth of Egypt’s population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and Arab. Sectarian violence sometimes erupts over disputes on issues related to 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. Al-Tayeb is widely considered a legitimiser of the Sisi regime, and many Islamic scholars have denounced him.
The meeting between the two unfroze relations after Al-Azhar, a 1,000-year-old mosque and university centre, 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.
Looking to set an example for Europe, he has taken in Muslim refugees fleeing the war in Syria.