Pope to visit Egypt to meet imam, persecuted Copts

Pope to visit Egypt to meet imam, persecuted Copts

The current pope has made interfaith dialogue and reconciliation a leading theme of his pontificate and has also overseen an improvement in relations with the Orthodox and Protestant wings of christianity.
The Argentine pope has a long-standing invitation to visit Egypt, issued by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he met Francis at the Vatican in 2014.
The pope will meet both the president and the grand imam, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
It added that “this important visit will contribute to reinforcing the message of peace as well as the spirit of tolerance and humanity’s dialogue between all the religions and the rejection of… terrorism and fanaticism”.
Francis will become the second Roman Catholic pope to visit Egypt, following John Paul II’s historic trip there in February 2000.
Relations were derailed under Benedict after rows over a 2006 speech in which he was seen as having linked Islam to violence and 2011 comments condemning an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria which Al-Azhar denounced as meddling in Egypt’s affairs.
– Suicide attack –
Nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 92-million strong population belong to the Coptic community in a country where Sunni Muslims make up the vast majority.
A suicide bomb attack on December 11, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, killed 29 people in the Coptic church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The church is next to the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral — the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II — which Francis will visit during the trip.

President Sisi condemned the attack, calling it cowardly and declared three days of national mourning. The attack was the deadliest targeting the Coptic community since the January 1, 2011 suicide bombing which killed 23 people in Alexandria.Since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, the Sinai peninsula has been hit by almost daily jihadist attacks above all aimed at the police and army.
IS called in a December video for attacks on Coptic Christians in Sinai, in particular in the town of El-Arish in the north of the peninsula.
Seven Coptic Christians have been killed since, while dozens of families have fled the region.
The Cairo visit has been carefully organised by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, an experience diplomat and energetic promoter of dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and Islam.
As head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, he participated in a February 22 joint seminary with Al-Azhar, the first since 2011.
The theme of the seminary was the role of the Al-Azhar mosque and the Vatican in fighting fanaticism, extremism and violence.
Egyptian Coptic Catholic bishops visited the Vatican in February and had extensive discussions with Francis about their community’s concerns.

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Taken from: https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/34698864/pope-francis-to-visit-egypt-on-april-28-29-vatican/#page1

Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after killings

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Flight of families to Ismailia follows warning of attacks by ISIL and murders targeting community in El Arish.

26 Feb 2017 21:43 GMT

Hundreds of members of Egypt‘s Coptic Christian minority have fled the Sinai Peninsula to Ismailia city, 115km northeast of the capital Cairo, following a series of killings by a local armed group.

The assailants have shot and killed at least seven Christians in separate attacks in Sinai’s El Arish city in February.

At least 90 families have reached the Ismailia governorate, according to an official of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

FAULT LINES: The battle for the Sinai

“The government helped find housing for some families and we rented apartments for the rest,” Father Kyrillos Ibrahim told DPA news agency from Ismailia on Sunday.

Each of the 90 families includes on average five members, according to him.

“It is hard to estimate if there will be more families coming, it depends how bad the situation is. We hope this is a temporary situation,” Ibrahim said.

Arriving scared

Luggage, boxes of food and newly displaced people were arriving throughout Sunday at Ismailia’s main youth hostel where authorities have put up 45 families.

Many rights activists say the displacement is a clear sign the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has failed to provide a minimum of security for Sinai’s Coptic Christians.

The government only agreed to put up the fleeing Christians in government housing in Ismailia after pressure on social media, which they underline as another disturbing sign.

Nabil Shukrallah of Ismailia’s Evangelical Church said the families arrive scared and in need of supplies, which are being stockpiled at the church via donations from several parishes.

They are then transported to be housed in and around the city, in private homes and, now, also accommodation provided by the government.

“They’re exhausted, with urgent needs for food and children’s clothing,” he said, as one father carried off a sick infant to be evacuated by ambulance.

“They’re terrified of the violence and brutality of the terrorists.”

Largely desert, the Sinai Peninsula has seen repeated attacks from armed groups, mainly targeting security forces, since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

ISIL video

The flight from Sinai has intensified after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group released a video last week threatening to carry out attacks against Christians in Egypt.

It described Christians as “infidels” empowering the West against Muslims.

The area’s few Christians had been trickling out but the departures picked up after fighters killed a Christian plumber at home in front of his family on Thursday in El Arish.

At least 90 Coptic families have reached the Ismailia governorate [Ahmed Aboulenein/Reuters]

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But Egypt’s ISIL affiliate is based in north Sinai and in December carried out a suicide bombing against a Cairo church.

The Cairo church bombing and the recent killings point to a shift in ISIL’s tactics in Egypt, with the group now also attacking Christian targets that are less well protected than military installations.

Before Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising, about 5,000 Christians lived in northern Sinai, but the number has since dwindled to fewer than 1,000, say priests and residents.

Egypt does not keep official statistics on the number of Christians in cities or across the country.

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Taken from: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/egypt-coptic-christians-flee-sinai-ismailiya-170226154942356.html