Pope Francis scores on multiple fronts

Pope Francis scored a triple win on his two-day visit to Egypt: a win for peace, a win for Christian-Muslim relations and a win for ecumenism.

May 05, 2017

By Gerard O’Connell
Pope Francis scored a triple win on his two-day visit to Egypt: a win for peace, a win for Christian-Muslim relations and a win for ecumenism.

These wins can be symbolised by three images: his refusal to use a bulletproof car, his embrace of Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar and placing his hand on the blood-spattered wall of the martyrs at the church of St. Peter in Cairo, where 29 people were killed in a terrorist attack last December.

The humble, open-windowed car he travelled in was a small victory for peace, offering hope on the political and economic front for Egyptians. Francis normally uses a small car, but given the major security concerns in Cairo, especially after the bombing of two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, everyone realised that he was taking a big risk by refusing a bulletproof vehicle that would have isolated him from the Egyptian people.

But Francis took the risk, trusting in God. His decision transmitted a message of hope on the political front to all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims alike, who are well aware that their country is today a target for ISIS terrorists and is engaged in a battle against terrorism.

The Pope’s visit, and his refusal to use a high-security vehicle, also offered hope on the economic front to Egyptians. The economy is in crisis. Last September $1 equalled 8 Egyptian pounds; today the rate is almost $1 to 20 pounds. One of the main reasons for the crisis is that the tourist industry on which Egypt thrived has been hit hard because of the fear created by terrorist attacks.

“Francis sent a different message to the world by his visit. He shows our country is peaceful, it is secure to come here. We are very happy at this,” Ahmed Mussa, a Muslim and journalist from Al-Ahram.

Many prefer the army to rule because they believe the alternative to a quasi-military rule was a revival of the Muslim Brotherhood, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which would make life far worse for the majority of Egyptians.

Pope Francis scored a second win by embracing the grand imam of Al Azhar twice in public at the conference for peace on April 28. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture of their embrace was carried by all Egyptian media and by media in other countries in the region.

Francis scored his third win in Egypt, this time in the ecumenical field, when at the end of his first day in Cairo he visited Pope Tawadros and afterward prayed with him at the Wall of the Martyrs of St Peter’s church, near the Coptic pope’s residence and St Mark’s Cathedral. When Tawadros showed him the blood-splattered wall, the result of the killing of 29 Coptic faithful (whose photos are now on the wall) in a terrorist attack claimed by ISIS last December, Pope Francis was deeply moved. He stepped forward and touched the glass plate that now protects the blood stains, and then blessed himself and placed a lighted candle before it.

That was a mighty gesture of solidarity with this suffering church, just as his visit to them was meant to offer consolation and hope.

He left Coptic Christians in no doubt that they are not alone, that they have a loyal and faithful friend in the Bishop of Rome, who is ever close to them, not only through his regular contact with Tawadros, but also by his very presence among them. This is “ecumenism in action.”

His visit with Tawadros also brought a significant step forward in terms of Christian unity when he and the Coptic pope signed a joint declaration recognising the legitimacy of each church’s baptism, something that has not been the case before.

These three wins are exactly the result of relations with other Christians, Muslims and communities across the world.-- America Magazine

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