Pope Francis to Copts: Show mercy amid persecution
Religion | Catholic church leader brings message of hope and peace to Egypt
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 5/01/17, 11:02 am
Pope Francis encouraged Egypt’s Coptic Christians to remain hopeful during his weekend visit to the country which followed heightened attacks against Christians in the past month. The pope’s trip also included a call for more tolerance as he visited the country’s top Islamic institution and met with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Francis on Friday met with the Coptic Church leader, Pope Tawadros II, and several other clerics and Orthodox patriarchs at the site of a December church bombing that killed about 28 people.
On Saturday, he led an open-air Mass at a stadium in Egypt’s capital, Cairo, amid high security. Some 15,000 Coptic Christians gathered in the stadium as the pope greeted and blessed the children. In his homily, the pope urged Christians to respond to fanaticism with charity and encouraged church leaders to continue to preach hope.
“Although there are many reasons to be discouraged, and many prophets of destruction and condemnation, may you be the sowers of hope, builders of bridges, and agents of dialogue and harmony,” the pope said.
Egypt’s Copts are facing increased persecution from Islamic extremists as they also battle state repression. Earlier this year, Coptic Christians fled the country’s northern Sinai region following repeated killings. In the latest bombing attack, at least 45 Christians died on Palm Sunday when extremists blew up two churches. Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population, also have complained of discrimination in access to land for churches, among other issues.
“He is a messenger of peace,” Amgad Eskandar, who was present at the stadium, said of the pope. “All his words talk about peace, and call for peace … which is great.”
During his visit, Pope Francis also held a conference organized by the al-Azhar mosque and university, one of Egypt’s most influential Islamic Sunni institutions. He called on its leaders to denounce fanaticism that leads to violence and hatred. In his meeting with al-Sisi, the pope acknowledged the president’s counterterrorism efforts, but added “history does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.