Pope Condemns Violence, Says Egypt Has Key Role in Building Peace
Francis urged leaders ‘to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies.’
CAIRO — Shortly after landing in Egypt, Pope Francis came out swinging against violent fundamentalism in his speech to authorities, telling the country’s leaders they have a special role in helping to quell extremism and promote peace in the region.
“Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence,” the Pope said April 28.
“I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the holy name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”
Pope Francis spoke to political and civil authorities, including Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, after landing in Cairo for his two-day trip to the country.
The visit will focus largely on interfaith and ecumenical dialogue in a bid to both strengthen Catholic-Muslim relations and support Egypt’s persecuted Coptic community.
After touching down around 2pm local time, the Pope stopped by the prestigious Al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. There, he addressed participants in the International Peace Conference before heading to his meeting with authorities.
In his speech to Egypt’s leaders, Francis voiced his gratitude of the invitation to come, saying that due to the country’s rich cultural and religious history, Egypt is the Misr um al-dunya, or “the Mother of the world,” a phrase commonly known by Egyptians.
He commented on how the Holy Family fled to Egypt in order to find “refuge and hospitality” after fleeing Herod. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.
“This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice,” the Pope said.
Because of this, Egypt has “a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.”
“Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families — some of them are present among us — who mourn their sons and daughters,” he said, and recalled the many youth, police and Coptic citizens who have become “nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.”
Among these victims, he said, are those affected by recent violence and threats — including the murder of a Coptic priest and the deaths of some 45 people killed by twin bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9, on Palm Sunday — which have prompted a Christian exodus from northern Sinai.
“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 said.
Pope Francis then offered his praise and encouragement of various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace “are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.”
He also spoke on the importance of keeping one’s focus on human beings above all else, because they are “the heart of all development.”
Pointing to the “fragile and complex” state of today’s world, which he has frequently dubbed a “third world war fought piecemeal,” Francis said that, in this context, a firm condemnation of violence is needed.
“It needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the sacred name of God,” he said, and he thanked President el-Sissi for clearly speaking out on this.
“All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them,” the Pope said, adding that God “never desires the death of his children, but, rather, their life and happiness.”
“He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence.” The true God “calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”
The Pope said it is the duty of everyone, regardless of nation or religion, to unite in proclaiming that “history does not forgive” hypocrites who preach justice but practice injustice or who talk about equality and then discard others.
“It is our duty,” he said, “to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.”
Francis stressed that it is our duty “to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”
Egypt, which once saved other peoples from famine, is called “to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity,” he said, explaining that this means issuing a harsh condemnation of all violence and terrorism.
By simultaneously building peace and fighting terrorism, Egypt will give proof that Al-din lillah wal watan liljami, he said, referring to the motto of the Egyptian Revolution of July 23, 1952: “Religion belongs to God and the nation to all.”
As the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions, the region, with the help of Egypt, the Pope said, “can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace.”
“From great nations, one can expect no less!” he said, noting how this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Pope Francis voiced his hope that these relations will continue to be strengthened, particularly through his visit.
He closed with an appeal for peace, which he said is “a gift of God, but also the work of man,” which must be “built up and protected.”
Offering his greetings to the various Christian rites present in Egypt, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics, the Pope prayed that St. Mark, who evangelized the region, would intercede for them in helping to establish unity.
“Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt,” he said. “You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict.”