Pope will visit Egypt in April
Pope Francis’ first international trip this year will be to Cairo, Egypt on 28-29 April. The visit is 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.
Al Tayyeb, who occupies a prestigious place in the Sunni Muslim world, visited the Vatican in May 2016. His meeting with Pope Francis marked a major step in thawing relations between the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See. Relations had been strained since 2011 when Pope Benedict XVI was accused of “interfering” in Egypt’s internal affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the Coptic Christmas.
The full program for the Pope’s trip has not yet been confirmed. However, Francis will almost certainly visit Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which has recently embarked on discussions with the Vatican on how to combat religious justification for violence in Egypt.
Persecution of Christians has long been an issue in the country. Twenty-nine Christians were killed in a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December. Islamic State said it carried out the bombing and released a video threatening to target Christian “crusaders” in Egypt. Hundreds of Christians recently fled their homes in the Sinai region in the north of the country following a serious of local killings. There have been 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the last three months.
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.
Last October the Vatican announced that the Holy See and the Al-Azhar Mosque and adjunct University will officially resume dialogue sometime this spring. Francis’ April visit to the University in Cairo will likely mark the official resumption of this dialogue.