“As-salamu alaykum! (Peace be with you!)”
These were the words of Pope Francis in a video message to the Egyptian people as he is scheduled to land in Cairo today, 28 April at 2 PM (8 PM Manila time).
The Pope’s visit comes just three weeks after Egypt’s Orthodox Christian Churches became targets of bloody terrorist attacks during last Palm Sunday’s liturgy. A total of 46 people were killed and hundreds injured in two separate bombing incidents, with ISIS claiming responsibility.
In recent years, a wave of extremism has swept Egypt, especially after a period of instability caused by the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Islamic fundamentalism has triggered attacks on Christian churches and communities perpetrated by Islamist insurgency groups allied with ISIS. Christians make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million-population.
In his video message, Pope Francis says he is coming as a messenger of peace to offer brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, especially Egyptian Muslims.
“I offer heartfelt thanks to the President of the Republic, to His Holiness Patriarch Tawadros II, to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and to the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch, all of whom invited me. I also thank each of you for opening your hearts to me, and in particular all those who worked so hard to make this journey possible,” the Pope said in his video message
The Pope is scheduled to join the Egyptian President, the Grand Imam and the Patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church in an international conference on peace and inter-religious co-existence. The Peace Conference will be held at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, considered the most prestigious center of learning by Sunni Muslims.
From there, the Holy Father, along with Pope Tawadros II, will proceed to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Sts. Peter and Paul to pray for the victims of a suicide bombing during a Holy Mass last December 2016. The move is seen as the Holy Father’s expression of solidarity, not just to Catholics, but with all persecuted Christians in Egypt and the Middle East.
On Saturday, April 29, Pope Francis will celebrate an open-air mass for the Catholic community and meet with bishops and seminarians before flying back to Rome at 5 PM (11 PM Manila time).
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will help 3,000 young Egyptians to meet Pope Francis in Cairo. ACN invites everyone to offer prayers for the safety and success of the Pope’s visit in Egypt.