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Gerard O’ConnellApril 28, 2017
Pope Francis shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, in Cairo, April 28 (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia).Pope Francis shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, in Cairo, April 28 (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia).

While his first speech at Al-Azhar in Cairo was aimed at religious leaders in Egypt and the Middle East region, his second was addressed to the Egyptian authorities only, and sought to address in particular the unique role of Egypt in working for peace at home and in the region

He emphasized that Egypt, because of its history and geographical position, “occupies a unique role in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to acute and complex problems that need to be faced now, to avoid the spread of worse violence.”

He attributed the problems to “the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism that uses the name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”

Then, in what appeared to be a reference to the popular uprisings in the country in 2012 and 2013 that removed two presidents—Mubarak and Morsi—and brought President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power, Francis recalled that the people had asked for an Egypt “where no one lacks bread, liberty and social justice.”

He encouraged the Egyptian authorities by telling them that the people’s call can become reality if there is the common will “to transform words into actions, valid aspirations into commitments, written laws into implemented laws, valorizing the innate genius of the people.”

This was Francis’ second major talk today, and he delivered it to an audience of some 800 members of the government, the country’s main institutions and the diplomatic corps.

This was Francis’ second major talk today, and he delivered it at the five-star Al-Masha Hotel complex, run by the Ministry of Defense, to an audience of some 800 members of the government, the country’s main institutions and the diplomatic corps.

President el-Sisi warmly welcomed this messenger of peace to Egypt, and in response Francis said he was “pleased” to be in this “land of ancient and most noble civilizations” that “represents much for the history of humanity and for the church’s tradition, not only because of its prestigious past history—that of Pharaohs, Copts and Muslims—but also because so many Patriarchs lived in Egypt or passed through it.” He reminded them that “God spoke and revealed his name to Moses” in this land, and on Mount Sinai entrusted the divine commandments “to his people and to all humanity.”

He recalled too that Egypt gave hospitality to the Holy Family 2,000 years ago and praised it for doing likewise today to millions of refugees from different countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq. (At the G-20 meeting in Sept. 2016, el-Sisi said Egypt hosts 5 million refugees and immigrants; U.N.H.C.R. speaks of half a million registered refugees).

Francis said Egypt “has the singular task to strengthen and consolidate regional peace, even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence” that caused suffering to many families. In this context, he paid tribute to “all those who have given their lives to protect the country in recent years: young people, members of the armed forces and police, Coptic citizens and many unknown who have fallen because of terrorist acts.”

He recalled the killings and threats to Christians in northern Sinai, and thanked the authorities and religious who helped them. He remembered too those killed in the Coptic churches at Tanta and Alexandria and, going beyond the Christian community, he expressed words of condolence for all those in Egypt who have suffered because of terrorist violence.

He commended the country’s peace initiatives and the national projects for development and prosperity, a reference to some major public projects now being sponsored by the government. He told them that “development, prosperity and peace are goods that cannot be renounced and merit every sacrifice.”

He said they require “serious commitment, adequate methodology and unconditional respect for human rights, such as equality between all citizens, freedom of religion and expression, without distinction,” as well as special attention to the role of women, young people, the poor, the sick, the disabled and minorities, “so that no person or social group is excluded or left on the margins.”

Then pointing to “the world war being fought piecemeal,” Pope Francis told the authorities here and in the Middle East (represented by ambassadors from different countries) that “no civilized society can be built without rejecting every ideology of evil, of violence and every extremist interpretation that pretends to annihilate the other and to annihilate the diversity by manipulated and outraging the Sacred Name of God.” President Sisi had often spoken about this, he said, and his words should be listened to.

Francis here too insisted on the need for education of the young.

He reminded everyone that “we must affirm history does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. It does not forgive those who speak of equality but then discard those who are different.” Moreover, he said, “we must unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, while preaching hate to rob the simple people of the present life and their right to live with dignity, depriving them of their capacity to choose with freedom and to believe with responsibility.”

“It is our duty to dismantle homicidal ideas and extremist ideologies," the pope said. 

Then, in strong words, he told the Egyptian authorities, “It is our duty to dismantle homicidal ideas and extremist ideologies, by upholding the incompatibility of true faith with violence, of God and acts of murder.”

History, he said, “honors men and women of peace, who courageously and nonviolently, struggle for a better world.”

Then in a biblical reference, Francis told the authorities that “Egypt, which at the time of Joseph saved other peoples from hunger, is called today, too, to save this dear region from the famine of love and fraternity. It is called to condemn and defeat all violence and terrorism. It is called to give the grain of peace to all those hearts thirsting for peaceful coexistence, dignified work, human education.”

As Egypt “builds peace and combats terrorism,” Francis said it is also called “to show that one can believe and live in harmony with others, sharing the fundamental human values and respecting the freedom and faith of all.”

He reminded the authorities that “peace is the gift of God but is also the work of man. It’s a good to be built and protected, in respect of the principle that upholds the force of law, not the law of force.”

He prayed for peace for “this beloved country! Peace to all this region, especially for Palestine and Israel, for Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and South Sudan! Peace to all men of good will!”

He recalled that Egypt was one of the first Arab States to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See, 70 years ago, and these have always been marked by friendship, esteem and mutual collaboration. He hoped the visit would consolidate this.

He closed with a “special embrace” to all the citizens of Egypt, and he extended a special greeting to his Christian brothers and sisters that live in this land—the Coptic Orthodox, Greek-Byzantine, Armenian-Orthodox, the Protestants and Catholics.

Speaking to the 10 million Christians of Egypt, he said: “Your presence here is neither new nor casual, but historical and inseparable from the history of Egypt. You are an integral part of this country and you have developed, over the centuries, a sort of unique relationship, a particular symbiosis, that can serve as an example for other nations. You have shown and show that one can live together, in mutual respect and loyal confrontation, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of clash.”

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