First papal visit to Egypt begins


Pope John Paul II arrived yesterday afternoon in Egypt on the first papal visit to that country. He was welcomed at Cairo Airport by President Mubarak and two children, who held up a bowl of Egyptian clay for him to kiss. Also there to greet him were Islamic leader Grand Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi of alAzhar, as well as representatives of the Coptic Church and the Coptic Catholic Church. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, was not there to greet him.

The secretary of the Coptic Church Synod later explained to the media that the reason Pope Shenouda had not been at the airport to greet Pope John Paul was because when Pope Shenouda visited Rome in 1973, the Pope (Paul VI) did not greet him at Rome airport. Pope John Paul was escorted to the VIP lounge at Cairo Airport, where President Mubarak spoke of him as "a man of courage, wisdom and tolerance". He said: "We share with you a great hope for a better future that carries within it an era of peace and love . . . a world dominated by the values which are deeply rooted in our religions and traditions."

He called for resistance to fanaticism, prejudice and hatred. "We should oppose all forms of discrimination, injustice and double standards if we are to establish a new viable world order. Your voice on these issues is of enormous value." Responding, Pope John Paul spoke of Egypt as the land "where God revealed his name to Moses". He praised President Mubarak for his commitment to peace and for advancing the peace process in the region. "To promote violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible contradiction and a terrible offence against God," the Pope said. "But past and present history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion." The Pope appealed for Muslim-Christian harmony and called for a Middle East peace in which the rights and legitimate aspirations of all peoples would be respected.

He concluded his remarks with the words "Peace be with you" which he spoke in Arabic.

Last night Pope John Paul visited Pope Shenouda, whose Orthodox church has never recognised papal supremacy. The Coptic leader said: "We wish all efforts for Christian unity may go forward through your help."

The Pope said his visit to Mount Sinai would be "a moment of intense prayer for peace and inter-religious harmony".

The Pope called later to see the Grand Sheikh, who thanked him for his "honourable position regarding the Palestinian people".