Pope Francis denounces religious extremism on historic Egypt visit

Pope Francis has called on Muslim leaders to unite in blocking the flow of money and arms to jihadi groups. The Catholic pontiff has also paid tribute to the victims of recent attacks on Coptic churches.

Watch video02:47

Francis calls for peace and dialogue

Pope Francis urged Muslim leaders to unite in denouncing religious extremism as he began a two-day visit to Egypt, a country that has suffered a series of brutal Islamist attacks in recent weeks.

“Peace alone… is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” Francis said Friday at an interfaith peace conference in Cairo.

The Catholic pontiff stressed that “demagogic forms of populism… are on the rise” and that it was essential to block “the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence.”

Read: ‘The pope of peace in the Egypt of peace:’ What can Francis achieve in Cairo?

“Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred,” he said.

The pope’s arrival marks a historic visit to the Arab world’s most populous country and his most symbolic gesture yet in promoting Christian-Muslim ties. Francis’ speech was also organized by Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University.

Watch video02:48

Morning Q&A: Pope in Egypt – Martin Gak

‘Pope of peace’

Francis also held talks with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi immediately after landing in Cairo.

The pontiff was escorted through heavily guarded streets, plastered with posters reading “Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace.” As often the case, however, Francis eschewed traveling in an armored motorcade, riding instead in a normal car with the window wound down.

Ägypten Papst Franziskus in Kairo | (picture-alliance/AP Photo/G. Borgia)Despite the heightened security tensions in Egypt, Pope Francis traveled with his car window down

Francis pays tribute to Coptic Christians

Francis’ push for religious dialogue has taken him to a country that has seen its Coptic Christian minority targeted in a series of extremist attxacks. Three ago, two bombings perpetrated by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria killed 45 Coptic Christians who were attending Palm Sunday services.  Egypt has been under a three-month state of emergency since.

Read: Bishop Damian: Egypt terror ‘a declaration of war against Copts’

The twin bombings followed a December attack on Cairo’s main Coptic church that killed 25 people and injured around 50. Francis visited the church later on Friday to pay tribute to the victims.

“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he told a ceremony also attended by el-Sissi.

On Saturday, the pope will preside over a Coptic Mass, where security will be extremely tight.

IS has labeled Christian minorities in the region as its “favorite prey.” Last week, the group claimed an attempted attack on St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai, the site where the Prophet Moses is believed to have received the 10 biblical commandments. One police officer was killed.

Watch video02:04

Berlin Coptic Christians mourn bomb victims

dm/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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