In Egypt, visiting Pope Francis will find challenges both political and religious
National Post, 27 April 2017
What will the pope and patriarch say about General el-Sisi and his relatively moderate regime? It is better for Christians that he is in power, but the Muslim majority also feels grieved that he seized power from the popular Muslim Brotherhood. Do Christian leaders stand with Christians against Muslims and democracy itself?
On Friday, a truly historic meeting of Christian leaders will take place in Cairo. Pope Francis will arrive at the Al-Azhar mosque and university — the leading centre of theology in the Sunni Muslim world — accompanied by Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople.
That the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches meet is not itself big news, as they meet from time to time in Rome and in Constantinople (Istanbul). Francis and Bartholomew are especially close, making joint trips to Jerusalem in 2014 and last year to the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees are landing in great numbers.
But it is enormously significant that Rome and Constantinople are meeting in Cairo at a conference hosted by the Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. They arrive just weeks after The Islamic State attempted to assassinate Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, the largest Christian Church in the Middle East by population. The Palm Sunday bombings did not claim Tawadros, but killed more than 40 of his flock. More recently, ISIL attacked the historic St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai, killing one security guard at one of the holiest Christian sites in the world.