In what will be his first international trip of the year, Pope Francis will be traveling to Cairo, Egypt, April 28-29, showing that interfaith dialogue is a priority.
He will visit the country in response to an invitation from His
Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar,
Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president Abdel
Fattah el-Sisi and the bishops of the local Catholic Church, a March 18
Vatican communique announced.
While the full program for the Pope's the trip will be published
shortly, he will almost certainly visit Al-Azhar University in Cairo,
which has recently partnered with the Vatican to discuss combatting
religious justification for violence in a warming of relations between
The Pope’s trip will likely focus largely on inter-faith dialogue and
Catholic-Muslim relations – especially in combating Christian
persecution – continuing dialogue from a seminar Vatican officials
attended in February.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue, along with the council's secretary and the head
of their Office for Islam, traveled to Cairo Feb. 24 to participate in
the special seminar at Al-Azhar University.
They discussed the theme “The role of al-Azhar al-Sharif and of the
Vatican in countering the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and
violence in the name of religion.”
Persecution of Christians has long been an issue in Egypt, with a recent spike in attacks causing even more reason for alarm.
There have been 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the
last three months, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the
Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said in a statement Feb
Twenty-nine were killed in a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox
Cathedral in Cairo in December. The Islamic State took credit for the
bombing and released a video threatening to target Christian “crusaders”
Since the video’s release, more Christians have been killed in Egypt
and hundreds have reportedly fled their homes in the Sinai region in the
north of the country after several murders there, the group In Defense
of Christians claimed.
Egyptian society was also profoundly shocked by the beheading in
Libya of 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful and a companion by Islamic State
militants in February 2015.
Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops
during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they
also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country.
The Pope had also received an invitation to visit Egypt from the
country’s president and from the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed
el-Tayyeb, who occupies a prestigious place in the Sunni Muslim world.
Al Tayyeb paid a visit to the Vatican May 23, 2016 for a meeting with
Pope Francis, which marked a major step in thawing relations between
the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See, which were strained in 2011
with claims that Pope Benedict XVI had “interfered” in Egypt’s internal
affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the
time of Coptic Christmas.
Since then relations have continued to move forward at a surprisingly
fast pace, leading to the Oct. 21 announcement from the Vatican that
sometime this spring the Holy See and the Al-Azhar Mosque and adjunct
University will officially resume dialogue.
Francis’ visit to Cairo and to the University in April will likely mark the official resumption of this dialogue.