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Pope Francis to Meet with Christian, Muslim Leaders in Egypt

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Pope Francis is making final preparations for a trip to Egypt.

His visit begins on Friday. It comes just weeks after deadly attacks against the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

This will be the second time a leader of the Roman Catholic Church has traveled to Egypt, the most populous Arab country.

Pope John Paul II visited Cairo in 2000.

Earlier this month, two terror attacks targeted Coptic churches in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, and the northern city of Tanta. More than 40 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured.

The attackers exploded bombs as they stood among people gathered for prayers at religious services. The bombings took place on the Christian observance of Palm Sunday.

They were the latest in a series of attacks against Egyptian Christians. Recently, Islamic militants carried out an attack on Christians in El Arish, a town in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The violence caused some Christian families to leave the area.

Pope to meet with other religious leaders

Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem spoke to VOA about Pope Francis’ visit. He said the trip was planned before the recent suicide bombings.

Kassem noted that it takes place at a time when “Christians are facing the brunt of terror attacks and their security in the country is in jeopardy.”

Pope Francis is expected to meet with Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al Sisi.

Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II leads prayers during the Easter Eve service at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2017.
Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II leads prayers during the Easter Eve service at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2017.

The pope will also meet with religious leaders, including the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II.

Francis and Tawadros will then meet with Egypt’s Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb, at al Azhar University. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, is also expected to attend the gathering.

A papal spokesman told Italian media that Pope Francis would not be using an armored vehicle because of concerns that it would keep him from meeting the Egyptian people.

A spokesman for the Catholic part of Egypt’s main Coptic Orthodox church discussed the visit with local media. He said Egyptian Christians were “expecting a message of peace and solidarity [as well as] a message of hope.”

Egypt has the largest Christian population of any Arab country. About 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people are said to be Christian.

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told VOA that the papal visit will be good for Christians and the government. He said it “will show the world that Egypt is stable.” He said this would help the country’s travel industry.

The effect of the attacks on Coptic Christians has been to increase distrust. Both the president and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail have accused other countries in the area of involvement in the attacks. However, they would not name those countries.

Arab media reported that the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings at the Coptic churches. Egyptian government media said terrorists in the Sinai have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood group and the Palestinian group Hamas. They have stated that both groups have support from several countries in the area.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ed Yeranian reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

brunt – n. the main force or effect

jeopardy – n. a situation in which someone is in danger

solidarity – n. a feeling of unity between people with the same interests

stable – adj. not likely to change too much

armoredadj. equipped or protected with flat pieces of metal

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