Pope Francis has celebrated Mass in Cairo, repeating his call for tolerance as Islamic militants threaten to rid the Middle East of its ancient Christian communities.
Francis’ two-day trip, aimed at rebuilding ties with Muslim religious leaders, comes three weeks after Islamic State killed at least 45 people in attacks on two Egyptian churches.
He was received by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and a number of Coptic and Catholic church officials at Cairo International Airport.
Following the reception, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi welcomed Pope Francis at the Ittihadeya Presidential Palace in Heliopolis. The Egyptian President and Pope Francis will hold private talks at the Presidential Palace before fronting the press.
“Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘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 Italian in a speech at a peace conference at Al-Azhar University, the premier seat of high learning among Sunni Muslims.
“In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence,” he add.
In his brief remarks, the Pope spoke of how this trip to Cairo had a special character because it followed an invitation (to visit Egypt) made by four different people: the Egyptian head of State, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the Orthodox Patriarch of the Copts, Pope Tawadros II, the Catholic Patriarch of the Copts, Ibrahim Sedrak and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.