Cairo: Pope Francis is set to lead a mass for Egypt’s small Catholic community on Saturday as he visits the country in support of its Christians following a series of deadly church bombings.
The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Christians will lead mass for some 30,000 believers in a stadium on the outskirts of Cairo.
The event will bring together members of all Catholic rites in the country — Coptic, Armenian, Maronite and Melkite.
Egypt’s Catholic community is estimated at about 272,000.
The Argentine pontiff will give a homily during the mass, which is to be held in Arabic and Latin.
After lunching with Egyptian bishops, the pope will meet seminarians before wrapping up his 27-hour visit in the afternoon.
Earlier this week, 23-year-old student Karim Saber said he was impatient to see the pope in his country.
“By coming to Egypt, the pope is showing us that nothing can prevent us from praying, including terrorism,” he said, referring to recent church bombings.
The bombings killed 29 people in Cairo in December, and 45 people north of the capital earlier this month. All were claimed by the Islamic State group.
Ibrahim Isaac, the Catholic Coptic patriarch in Egypt, has said the papal visit represents “moral and spiritual support” at a time when “the succession of incidents is causing a form of frustration among the people, and sometimes anger”.
Christians, who make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million, have long complained of marginalisation in the Muslim-majority country.
Egypt has the largest Christian community of the Middle East.
While most of Egypt’s Christians are Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholics have also lived in the country since the fifth century.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic orders in Egypt — Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits — developed a network of schools, hospitals and charitable activities.
The papacy formally and legally established the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate in the 19th century.
The 80-year-old pope’s visit come 17 years after Pope John Paul II made a trip to the Arab world’s most populous nation.
On Friday, the Argentine met Coptic Orthodox patriarch Pope Tawadros II, and both attended an emotional mass at the church hit 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”.
“All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country,” the declaration also said, striking a more political tone.
Earlier in the day, the pope met Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of the Al-Azhar institution, one of Muslim world’s leading authorities, to push for dialogue between the two faiths.
In a speech to a Muslim-Christian conference, the 80-year-old pontiff denounced violence and populism.
“Peace alone… is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” Francis said.
He criticised what he called “demagogic forms of populism… on the rise”, saying they were unhelpful to peace.