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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pope Francis puts his faith to work in Cairo Egypt - inspirational visit

Powerful message and prophetic too...

"Any other type of fanaticism (referring to religious fanaticism) does not come from God, and is not pleasing to him,” Francis told the crowd of about 15,000 Catholics (including Coptics), at a suburban Cairo stadium.
Security surrounds Pope Francis at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo.
Pope Francis in Cairo Egypt

Appearing in public, in the face of enormous stress about his security, after several anti-Christian bombings in Egypt, the brave Pope Francis created an inspirational image for the entire world. There is nobody alive today who can leave the imprimateur of peace on the world like the images of Pope Francis in Egypt. Indeed, he is a brave Man of God.  In Egypt where a minority of the people are Christians, the Pope had no compelling reason to risk his life to be seen in collegiality with the majority Egyptian Muslims.  Nevertheless, Pope Francis went where many would fear to tread. 

Moreover, the message Pope Francis gave during his Egyptian visit was a universal call for charity.

Reported in USAToday:

CAIRO — Celebrating an open-air Mass in front of thousands of Egyptians on Saturday, Pope Francis delivered a powerful message of religious tolerance, telling the crowd the only acceptable kind of fanaticism is that of "charity."

"Any other type of fanaticism does not come from God, and is not pleasing to him,” Francis told the crowd of about 15,000 Catholics and Copts
 at a suburban Cairo stadium. "True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane ... it makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped.”

The message of unity highlights a main theme of the pontiff's two-day visit to Egypt to promote tolerance, peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world's largest country. The trip comes on the heels of bombings at Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday that killed 44 people and injured scores more.

In the wake of the recent attacks, military and police seemingly outnumbered the stadium crowd at times Saturday. Two military helicopters circled the area and police checked cars for explosives. Only attendees with a pass from the Egyptian homeland security agency were allowed to enter.

Despite the security concerns, Francis glided around the stadium in an open-topped golf cart ahead of the Mass as a joyful crowd welcomed the pope with a show of yellow and white balloons and a chorus singing Gloria.

Amr Moussa, former foreign minister, Arab League secretary general and a Muslim, praised the Mass for showcasing interfaith understanding. "The pope recognized the core beliefs of Islam … that coexistence is at the center of Islam," he said.

Jozef Mata, 23, a social worker and one of the 250,000 Catholics in the country, took a four-hour bus ride from his home in Assiut in central Egypt and slept on the floor of a Cairo high school the night before the Mass. “Francis is telling us that we are his sons,” he said. “He will take care of us whatever the cost.”

Roshdy Zayed, 81, a Catholic, came with his 10 grandchildren from Nazlet Khater, a village in Upper Egypt, and said he was thrilled with the pope's message of peace and unity. "Wonderful things happened today," he said. "I say thank you to God for today."

In addition to the spiritual uplift and message of peace, Sameh Mina, 47, owner of a wholesale food supply company in Cairo, hoped Francis' visit would resurrect the country's hard-hit tourist industry, which has suffered mightily as a result of terror attacks and turmoil following the 2011 revolution.

"If only we can use the pope visit to inspire tourists to make the same trip," said Mina, who like most Christians in Egypt believes the time Jesus and his family spent here makes the country a pilgrimage destination. "He leads 1.2 billion people and if just 10% came to make a pilgrimage, here our economy would be saved."

The Mass comes on the last day of Francis' visit to the African nation. On Friday, he became the first pope to visit Al-Azhar University, a center of Sunni Islamic scholarship that dates back to the 10th century. He also met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and visited a Coptic church bombed by the Islamic State in December.

Pharmacy clerk Mohammed Ahmed, 40, welcomed the pontiff’s visit as an acknowledgment that most Egyptians don’t sympathize with the Islamic State and other jihadists.

"The pope's visit is a blessing for all Egyptians,” Ahmed said. “He will improve and increase the view of Egypt abroad and is a sending message that Egypt is safe."

"We feel bad that these church bombings are happening,” he added. “But this is the result of people like the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey and (Palestinian) Hamas that have brought so many weapons to extremists through the Sinai desert."

Francis appeared to endorse this view Friday at the Al-Azhar University, when he condemned the "flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence."

The most populous Arab country, Egypt is majority Muslim. Around 10% of its 92 million citizens are Copts, making it the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Francis met with the spiritual head of the Copts, Pope Tawadros on Friday, pledging that one church would not re-baptize those who converted from one faith to the other. The measure has intense symbolic significance because it means the Vatican and Coptic Churches now respect how each performs the sacrament.

Peter Basilious, a 28-year-old Coptic pharmacist, said Francis’ visit would draw Rome and the Coptic Christian Church closer.

"This is about high-level politics – promoting peace between Muslim and Christians but also looking for a real connection to the Egyptian Orthodox leaders,” Basilious said. “Francis is showing he loves our church and wants a unified approach to our faith."

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Cairo on April 29, 2017. Pope Francis led a jubilant mass for thousands of Egyptian Catholics during a visit to support the country's embattled Christian minority and promote dialogue with Muslims. Amr Nabil, AP

Indeed, in his visit to Egypt, Pope Francis gave an inspirational and timely message to the world - God is not pleased with religious fanaticism.  Yes, I believe Pope Francis is speaking for God.  

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