Pope Francis waves as he tours St. Peter's Square (File Photo: AP/Alessandra Tarantino)
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By Francesca Astorri, Wednesday, 12 April 2017
has been almost two decades since a Roman Catholic Pope has been on an official
visit to Egypt. It was the year 2000 when Pope John Paul II said in Arabic
“Peace be upon you”, making history as the first Pope to visit Egypt. The
Catholic Pope has not visited since, until now. On April 28, Pope Francis will
land in Cairo in a visit that has been billed as a historic moment.
of peace in Egypt of peace” is the slogan being used on the Holy See website to
brand Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt. It sounds tragically far from reality, just
days after two bomb blasts hit Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Palm
Sunday - one of the holiest days for the Coptic
“Christians and Muslims have been living in relative harmony for ages, but now
there are forces that are hard to control” Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, Cardinal
of the Catholic Church and President of the Pontifical Council for
Inter-religious Dialogue in the Roman Curia told Al Arabiya English.
is the main concern related to the Pope’s visit, but responsibilities depend on
the Egyptian authorities. As regard the Pope is serene,” Cardinal Tauran added.
his visit to Cairo Pope Francis will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah
el-Sisi, the Grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyib, the leader
of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II and with the
visit aims to cement the spirit of mutual respect and dialogue among followers
of different religions and further isolate extremism and violence, as main
obstacles come from ignorance and radicalism, Cardinal Tauran explained.
more than before, the Vatican is paying attention to these subjects, as threats
of terrorism have reached the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica.
the first time this year the Vatican was included in 2017 Risk Map presented by
risk management multinational Aon, in collaboration with Roubini Global
Economics and The Risk Advisory Group. The Vatican is between the countries
that registered a score deterioration regarding terrorism and political
violence. “The risk level for the Vatican increased due to repeated Islamic
State threats” the report explains.
threats were symbolized by the image of ISIS black flag superimposed on the
obelisk in St Peter’s square published in a 2014 edition of ISIS online
propaganda magazine Dabiq.
in the Middle East have been living under ISIS threat for years now. According
to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are facing a true genocide threat that
has prompted a massive exodus. This is leading to fear that Christianity is on
course to disappear.
are in fact fast disappearing from entire regions, most notably from the Middle
East, but also whole dioceses in Africa, according to the ACN report.
in the MENA region, Christianity is also losing followers and strength in
other parts of the world.
number of Christians in what many consider the religion’s heartland, Europe, is
in decline. This is what was reported by 2017 Pew Research Center demographic
analysis. Apparently Christians in Europe are dying faster than they are being
deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million between 2010 and 2015.
is a trend that hasn’t been shared by Muslims that are considered the fastest
growing major religious group, which has been estimated to likely increase in
number by 70 percent between 2015 and 2060. According to Pew Research Center’s
report, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed
the number of Christians by the end of this century.
the decline in numbers, Christians remained the largest religious group in the
world in 2015, making up nearly a third (31 percent) of Earth’s 7.3 billion
people. As the community remains significant in magnitude, it is now more
fragmentation of the Christian community is most evident in the Middle East,
where we find a number of different denominations from the one of the Catholic
Church. There are the Copts, the Maronite Christians, the Christians of the
Orthodox Church, the Melkite Christians, the Chaldeans, just name just a few.
divisions explain the need for the Catholic Church to show its presence in the
Middle East, in order to coagulate the community and implement its evangelical
Catholic church is looking for a way to lead Christianity towards a new form of
unity, at the same time trying to keep its primacy. But I believe we are still
far from establishing a universal Church with a sort of federal structure,”
Italian historian Franco Cardini, Fellow at Harvard University, Boston and
Director of the Ecole d’Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, told
tentative to conform and level Christian beliefs is not new, as it started with
Roman Emperor Theodosius I in the IV century AD, according to Cardini, who is
also Professor of Medieval history at the University of Florence, Italy.
between the Muslim world and the Catholic Church are crucial to the
international peace, as both religious groups combined bring together around 4
policy has been key in Pope Francis’s four-year-old papacy, as he has been
working for reconciliation and overcoming divisions among all peoples.
in a nationally televised address in 2014, US President Barack Obama thanked
Pope Francis for the help the Pope had given in facilitating the beginning of
normalization in relations between the United States and Cuba.
particular,” Obama said, “I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose
moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather
than simply settling for the world as it is."
words are more relevant now,
given the need for a mediator on a number of issues in a number of parts of the
Middle East, from Syria to Palestine.
Vatican can play an important role as a mediator between the Western world and
the Middle East. But beyond that, the power of the pope in the Middle East is
quite limited to soft power,” Pejman Abdolmohammadi, Research Fellow at the
Middle East Center of the London School of Economics (LSE), said, adding that
expectations around Pope Francis are overestimated.
and when the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis will be seriously
reopened, then the Pope has a potentiality there and he could decide to play a
crucial role in that scenario,” said Abdolmohammadi, who is also Professor of
Middle East Studies at University of Genoa, Italy.
peace process between Palestinians and Israelis seem to be stuck with no
identified facilitators and new obstacles. That’s the mediation that the world
would perceive as a real effort by the Catholic Church to bring international
peace for the benefit of all, beyond religious differences.
opening of the first Palestinian embassy to the Holy See earlier this year, was
widely considered as a step towards facilitating a peace process based on the
two-State solution. Now the Pope’s visit to Egypt after more than a decade of
absence looks like a way to reconcile with the Middle East and build new
the Catholic Church wants to play a significant role in the region, the pope
should consider going beyond symbolic acts and start facilitating where
mediation is needed.