Pope Francis will visit Cairo, Egypt, from April 28-29, the Vatican announced Saturday, amidst a recent spate of Islamist persecution of Christians in the North Sinai area.
In a brief statement from the director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, the Vatican said that the Pope’s visit comes as a response to a joint invitation from “the President of the Republic, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib.”
The program of the trip will be published shortly, the statement noted.
A branch of the Islamic State operating in Egypt recently released a video vowing to eliminate the presence of Christians in Egypt and to “liberate Cairo,” the city the pontiff will be visiting.
As Breitbart News reported earlier this month, Islamic State incursions in North Sinai have driven more than 250 Christian families from the city of al-Arish, scattering them among 13 different provinces.
A series of brutal jihadist attacks on Christians, including the shooting, burning and beheading of seven people in the region and the torching of a number of houses, provoked the flight.
Father Samir Khalil Samir, professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, told Vatican Radio that “the jihadists want to clean out the entire Sinai Peninsula to make a new land of conquest. Since losing ground in Syria and Iraq, then seek refuge in Sinai to continue their fight.”
According to veteran Vatican analyst and author John L. Allen, the upcoming papal visit to Egypt offers a sterling opportunity for the pontiff to make a stand in defense of persecuted Christians.
Noting that assaults on Coptic Christians are a “chronic problem that’s getting worse,” Allen underscored the urgency of a strong show of support for the oppressed Christian minority.
The will surely highlight efforts by the Vatican and Al-Azhar University, the leading center for learning in Sunni Islam, “to join forces in delegitimizing religious pretexts for violence,” Allen wrote, yet it must do more than that.
“If Francis’s partnership with Al-Azhar is to avoid leaving local Christians embittered and cynical, it has to include a clear insistence from the pontiff that its Islamic leadership press both the government and their fellow Muslims to do a better job of securing basic safety and full rights as citizens for the country’s Christians,” he wrote.
“Otherwise, the risk is that to many Egyptian Christians, Francis’s détente may seem like a pretext for allowing their persecution to go unchecked and unacknowledged,” he concluded.
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