Pope Francis in Egyptian capital for historic 2-day visit
CAIRO (AP) — Pope Francis came to Egypt on Friday for a historic visit to the Arab and Muslim-majority nation aimed at presenting a united Christian-Muslim front to repudiate violence committed in God’s name.
The Catholic pontiff is holding a series of deeply symbolic meetings in Cairo with Egypt’s religious and political leaders; he is also to participate in an international peace conference organized by Al-Azhar, the world’s primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning.
Francis says he wants to bring a message of peace to a country that has for years endured an increasingly emboldened insurgency led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.
“It’s a trip of unity, of fraternity,” Francis told journalists travelling with him aboard the papal plane.
The Friday-Saturday visit is also meant to lift the spirits of Egypt’s large Christian community after three suicide bombings since December — including deadly twin Palm Sunday church attacks — killed at least 75 people. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, a general-turned-president, declared a nationwide state of emergency following the Palm Sunday attacks in a bid to better deal with the insurgency through wider police powers and swift trials.
Francis stepped out of the Alitalia jet to a red carpet welcome in the early afternoon hours in Cairo, after taking off from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport earlier in the day. Two children, a girl in a white dress and a boy in a black tuxedo, presented Francis with bouquets of flowers.