Cairo (AFP) – Pope Francis appealed for dialogue to battle extremism as he addressed thousands of faithful on Saturday during a visit to Egypt to promote reconciliation with Muslims and support its embattled Christians.
His visit, coming after the Islamic State group (IS) killed dozens of worshippers in three Egyptian church bombings earlier this month and in December, gave the country’s beleaguered Christian community an occasion to be joyful.
“The only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity,” the pope said at a mass for Egypt’s Catholics.
“True faith… moves our heart to love everyone… It makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome but a brother and sister to be loved,” he told a crowd of about 15,000 pilgrims.
“It spurs us on to spread, defend and live out the culture of encounter, dialogue, respect and fraternity.”
The mass came on the second and last day of Francis’s visit, which saw him plead for tolerance and peace on Friday as he visited a Coptic church bombed by IS in December.
The spiritual leader of the world’s almost 1.3 billion Catholics also became the first pope to visit the headquarters of the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the Muslim world’s leading religious authorities.
– ‘Historic occasion’ –
Also on Friday, Francis met Coptic Orthodox patriarch Pope Tawadros II, and both attended an emotional service at the church attacked in the December suicide bombing.
They prayed at a makeshift shrine for its victims, who were mostly women.
They also signed a joint declaration pledging to “strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims”.
On Saturday, the crowd cheered and released yellow and white balloons as Francis lapped the Cairo stadium in a golf cart, waving to the crowd as a chorus sang a joyous hymn.
Worshippers old and young, nuns and priests, had been bused in under tight security with Egypt under a state of emergency following the church bombings.
It was, said Coptic Catholic…