Pope Francis concluded a 27 hour visit to Egypt Saturday, after delivering mass to a crowd of 25,000 Catholics and visiting a seminary. Preaching a message of “peace,” the pontiff tried to reach out to both Christians and Muslims, denouncing those who preach violence in the name of God.
Pope Francis said mass in Latin to a vast throng of worshipers gathered at Egypt’s Air Force Stadium Saturday, amid strict security. Egyptian media reported that 25,000 Catholic Christians from six branches of the church attended the mass, amid a festive atmosphere.
A choir of Armenian Catholics took its turn to sing during the Saturday mass, as Pope Francis made an effort to embrace Catholics from the different branches of his own church. Other choirs sang in Arabic and Latin.
Patriarch Ibrahim Ishaq, head of the Catholic branch of the Coptic Church, summed up the papal visit, saying that it was taking place under the banner of “the Pope of peace in the land of peace. Egypt,” he stressed, “is the cradle of religions and will remain a land of peace.”
Pope Francis spent the first day of his visit, Friday, meeting with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, at an interfaith dialogue conference, before visiting the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros, to express his condolences over the Palm Sunday suicide attacks at Coptic churches in Alexandria and the Nile Delta town of Tanta.
The pontiff told Muslim and Christian leaders at Friday’s dialogue meeting that “we must learn from the past that violence breeds more violence and evil only begets evil.” Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb, who presided over the conference with Pope Francis, decried what he called the “unprecedented barbarity of the 21st Century, despite all the talk of human rights.” Both leaders embraced each other warmly after addressing the crowd.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sissi, who also attended the gathering, insisted that “Egypt is at the forefront of those countries fighting terrorism,” and urged the international community to “sanction countries which finance terrorism and help to recruit terrorists.”
Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed told Egyptian media that he thinks that Pope Francis’ visit demonstrates to the world that Egypt is a “safe and hospitable place” to visit.
He says that Egypt is not only the “cradle of civilizations,” but also has a major role in delivering a message of peace to the world.
Pope Francis’ final stop before heading to the airport was a visit to a seminary in the Cairo suburb of Ma’adi, where he appealed to clergy from different Christian sects to “accept the differences among us,” in the same way that we “admire the different virtues of Saint Peter and of Saint Paul.”