Pope Francis, making a two-day visit to Egypt, urged Muslim leaders on Friday to unite in renouncing religious extremism at a time when Islamist militants are targeting ancient Christian communities across the Middle East.
Francis’s trip, aimed at improving Christian-Muslim ties, comes just three weeks after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in two Egyptian churches.
“Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” the pope told a peace conference at Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar.
“Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred,” he said at the 1,000-year-old Sunni Muslim seat of learning.
Francis headed straight to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after landing in Cairo, driving through heavily guarded streets but eschewing an armoured motorcade and instead using a normal car with his window wound down.
“Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace,” read posters plastered along the road leading from the airport to central Cairo.
His visit comes at a time of high tensions in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation. Besides the Palm Sunday bombings, Islamist militants last week attacked a police checkpoint close to St. Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai.
He will celebrate an open air Mass on Saturday at a military arena.