By Carol Glatz | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will meet with the leader of one of the world’s leading Sunni Muslim institutions, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church and representatives of the Catholic Church on a two-day trip to Cairo.
The pope is scheduled to arrive in Cairo April 28 for courtesy visits with political and religious leaders and deliver a speech, along with the grand imam of al-Azhar University, to an international conference on peace. He will celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community in Cairo the next day and meet with bishops, clergy, religious and seminarians before returning to Rome April 29.
In mid-March, the Vatican confirmed the pope would make the trip following an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar.
It will be the pope’s 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt, after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.
The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population, which is 90 percent Sunni Muslim.
In 1998, Catholic-Muslim dialogue was initiated between Vatican experts and Muslim scholars of Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the main center for Islamic learning for the more than 1 billion Sunni Muslims worldwide. The trip will come amid increasingly closer relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar, which is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam. The pope has also said he sees the importance of strengthening cooperation between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox Christians in the face of so many threats to human life and creation.
Here is the pope’s schedule as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses.
Friday, April 28 (Rome, Cairo)
— 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.), Departure from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Cairo.
— 2 p.m. (7 a.m.), Arrival at Cairo airport. Official welcoming ceremony at the Heliopolis presidential palace. Courtesy visits with el-Sissi and Sheik el-Tayeb. Speeches by the grand imam and the pope to participants in an international conference on peace.
— 4:40 p.m. (9:40 a.m.), Meeting with local authorities. Speeches by el-Sissi and Pope Francis. Courtesy visit to Pope Tawadros. Speeches by Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis.
Saturday, April 29 (Cairo, Rome)
— 10:00 a.m. (3:00 a.m.), Mass in Cairo. Homily by pope.
— 12:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.), Lunch with Egypt’s bishops and the papal entourage.
— 3:15 p.m. (8:15 a.m.), Prayer gathering with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians. Speech by pope. Farewell ceremony.
— 5 p.m. (10 a.m.), Departure from Cairo airport for Rome.
— 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.), Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.