The leader of the Catholic Church will arrive in Egypt on Friday morning to encourage local believers after the devastating Palm Sunday attacks that claimed the lives of at least 40 local believers.
Pope Francis, famous for wanting to engage with ordinary people, has refused to ride in an armoured vehicle, exposing him to greater risk.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters, “we live in a world where [security] is now something that is part of life. However, we move ahead with serenity.”
Pope Francis’ meeting with the Coptic Orthodox leader, Pope Tawadros in Cairo on Friday will be an important sign of solidarity with Christians who suffer and die for their faith.
“They are not persecuted because they are Orthodox or Copts or because they are Anglicans, but because they are Christian.” – Pope Francis
“The Egyptian authorities have bent over backward trying to accommodate and secure the Pope’s visit. But it has been hard for them to understand his desire for ‘simplicity’ and why he turned down many of their generous offers, such as the use of a presidential limo and the best palace to stay in,” says Ramez Atallah, general director of the Bible Society of Egypt.
His visit will be brief – only two days – but he is planning to lead a service in a large stadium. It is expected about 30,000 people will be in attendance.
The Bible Society in Egypt is making the most of this opportunity, and have arranged with the Pope’s planning committee to distribute 30,000 copies of the Sermon on the Mount in both Arabic and English.
“It is our prayer that this may be a blessing, especially to all who have never read these life changing words of our Lord Jesus,” says Atallah.
Monsignor Gabriel Quicke, who heads the office for dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches at the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity, told Vatican Radio that Pope Francis spoke forcefully about “the ecumenism of blood” of the Coptic martyrs. He repeated the phrase following the beheadings of Christians on a beach in Libya in 2015, stressing that “they are not persecuted because they are Orthodox or Copts or because they are Anglicans, but because they are Christian.”
Pope Francis is expected to meet with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, as well as the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II. The two Popes are also planning to meet with Egypt’s Grand Imam, Skeikh Ahmed al Tayeb and one of the heads of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.