With a heart full of joy and gratitude I will soon visit your beloved country, the cradle of civilization, the gift of the Nile, the land of sun and hospitality, the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard" Roman Catholic Pope Francis said, on last Tuesday on a televised speech addressing the Egyptian people ahead of his two-day visit to the country, on last Friday; the first visit by a Roman Catholic pope since his predecessor John Paul II visited Cairo in 2000.
The visit, which celebrates 70 years of diplomatic ties between Egypt and the Vatican, comes after two suicide bombings targeted two cathedrals in Egypt earlier this month, which left at least 45 people dead and injuring dozens of Christian worshipers. He will arrive in a country under a state of emergency declared by President El Sisi. The visit was designed to forge Muslim-Christian brotherhood and show solidarity with the country's persecuted Coptic Christian minority. The visit has been broadcast on the national television and covered by some 1,000 journalists from many countries and 70 that accompanied Francis on the plane from Rome.
Pope Francis touched down at Cairo airport, on the 29th of April, then he was ushered in a car to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He has visited the presidential palace, the headquarters of Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral and St Leo’s Patriarchal Seminary in Maadi during the time of his stay. Francis has refused an offer to travel around Cairo in an armored vehicle. “Security is an issue everywhere, not just in Egypt,” said papal spokesman Greg Burke.
On each of these stops, as in a gathering with public figures to a luncheon hosted by President El-Sisi, Pope Francis made statements calling for tolerance, peace and an end to violence. During his statement before the closing session of the international conference on peace at the headquarters of Al-Azhar, Pope Francis underlined the need to respect the religious rights and freedoms of the other and to pursue the call of tolerance in fully awareness that no act of violence can be committed in the name of God. He also offered a homily at a mass he led, with joint Coptic and Catholic prayers, at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo. He waved at worshippers and stopped momentarily to bless a group of children in costume. Parts of the stadium stands were draped with his photo as well as Egyptian and Vatican flags.
One of the biggest achievements of his visit, is the historic signing of an agreement to jointly recognize the baptism of Christians by both churches offered good news to Egyptian Christians who were pleased at the rapprochement between the leading churches.
Pope Francis also paid tribute to the souls of over 50 victims of the two Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria attacks.