Pope Francis visits Egypt as ‘messenger of peace’

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CAIRO: Pope Francis is in Egypt on a visit aimed at improving Christian-Muslim dialogue, three weeks after bombings at two Coptic churches killed 45 people. As he arrived in Cairo he said his trip would be a “journey of unity and fraternity”, AFP news agency reports. He will meet the Egyptian president and speak at al-Azhar University, a key centre of Sunni Islamic learning. So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the Palm Sunday bombings. The 80-year-old pontiff said before the visit that he was travelling as a “messenger of peace” and, as usual, would not use an armoured car. The two-day visit is the first papal trip to Cairo in 20 years and comes as Egypt’s Coptic Christians – who make up 10% of the country’s mainly Muslim population – face increased threats. The majority of the Copts are Orthodox, with less than 150,000 of them Catholic.As well as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Pope is due to meet Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of the 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic learning, al-Azhar. He is expected to address a conference there on religious dialogue, as part of efforts to improve relations, after Egyptian Muslim leaders cut ties over comments made by Pope Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. Image copyrightAFPImage captionCoptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population The pontiff will also meet the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, and walk with him to St Mark’s Cathedral, the scene of the December bombing. —Agencies

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