Thursday,18 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Thursday,18 April, 2019
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Papal visit

Pope Francis’ itinerary will include a mass at the Air Defence Stadium, reports Michael Adel

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis arrives in Egypt tomorrow. He is scheduled to leave Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino international airport in Rome at 10:45am and land in Cairo at 2pm. He will be officially received by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb at the Presidential Palace. Following the reception Al-Sisi and Pope Francis will deliver speeches after which Pope Francis will visit Pope Tawadros II.

The following day, Saturday, Pope Francis will attend a mass at the Air Defence Stadium, lunch with local Catholic priests and then return to Rome.

Officials from the Coptic Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches say the meeting between Francis and Tawadros, expected to last 60 minutes, will focus on ecclesiastical issues, including unifying Christian holidays, especially Easter. The subject is not new to either religious leader. In 2014 Pope Tawadros assigned the bishop of Damietta and Kafr Al-Sheikh the task of undertaking a thorough study of the issue. When Bishop Bishoi completed the study Pope Tawadros wrote to the Vatican to invite Francis to discuss the unification of Easter celebrations.

Sources rule out the possibility of the two popes discussing the situation in Syria though there is a possibility the issue will be broached during Pope Francis’ meeting with Al-Sisi.

Pope Francis is known for his opposition to atheism and what he describes as “attempts to do away with God and all that is holy” which “have frequently led to catastrophic violence”. But he has also argued that believers and atheists could be “strong allies in their efforts to defend human dignity and to build peaceful coexistence among all peoples”.

Muslim clergymen in Argentina say Francis, who served as archbishop of Buenos Aires before being elected pope, “has always shown himself to be a friend of the Muslim community”. As archbishop, Francis visited the mosque and Islamic school in the Argentinean capital and called for efforts to strengthen the relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam.

Sumer Noufouri, secretary-general of the Islamic Centre of Argentina said the actions Francis had taken while archbishop made the news of his election to the papacy “a cause for joy among the Muslim community in Argentina” and “raised hopes for interfaith dialogue”. Francis “has had a major impact in the history of the relations between the monotheistic religions,” said Noufouri.

Following Francis’ election Youssef bin Ahmed Al-Aathemeen, the then secretary-general of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, said it was important to take advantage of the occasion “to revive the close friendship between the two divinely revealed religions”.

Al-Tayeb conveyed his congratulations to Pope Francis upon his election. Al-Azhar severed ties with the Vatican during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and Al-Tayeb’s congratulatory message was seen as a sign of a thaw in relations. In his meeting with ambassadors from 180 nations the newly consecrated Pope Francis said that he would devote particular attention to dialogue with Muslims.

Civil and religious leaders from around the world attended Francis’ inaugural mass in St Peter’s Square. A few days later the newly invested pope travelled to a prison where, in a ceremony commemorating the humility of Christ, he washed the feet of 12 inmates among whom, for the first time, were two Muslims.

There are more than 250,000 Catholics in Egypt, says Father Rafik Greish, spokesman for the Catholic Coptic Church. The majority are Coptic Catholics. Other Catholic communities in Egypt include the Roman, Armenian, Maronite and Latin churches.

Francis’ visit to Egypt is not the first by the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II visited Egypt in 2000.

Nuns from across Egypt have been invited to attend the mass that will be officiated by Pope Francis in the Air Force Stadium on Saturday. According to an informed source, 5,000 invitations have been sent out to nuns and other Catholic parishioners.

The Coptic Catholic Church has denied rumours that clergymen from other Christian denominations participating in or present at the ceremony will be obliged to wear Catholic garments. Such rumours are “totally devoid of truth and have no bearing in reality,” said Father Greish.

“Orthodox clergymen in attendance will occupy a prestigious position and they will be dressed in their traditional robes and turbans, as is only natural. However, they will not take part in the celebration of the Eucharist. As for Catholics from various denominations who will be taking part, whether Copts, Maronites or others, they will wear the robes that they normally wear.”

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