Pope urges imams to teach peace, tolerance
Sunni school part of landmark Egypt visit
CAIRO • Pope Francis urged Egypt’s leading imams on Friday to teach their students to reject violence in God’s name and preach messages of peace and tolerance instead, forging ahead with a delicate visit to the Arab world’s most populous country following a spate of deadly Islamist militant attacks against Christians.
Francis arrived to a subdued welcome and a heavy police presence at Cairo’s international airport. But he brushed off security concerns by driving into town with his windows rolled down in a simple blue Fiat — not the armoured “popemobiles” of his predecessors.
Francis has said he wanted to bring a message of peace to Egypt, which has been enduring an increasingly emboldened insurgency led by a local Islamic State affiliate.
In a speech to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi and diplomats, Francis strongly backed the Egyptian government’s crackdown against the militants, saying Egypt had a unique role to play in forging peace in the region and in “vanquishing all violence and terrorism.”
Francis’ major event of the day was a landmark visit to Cairo’s Al Azhar university, the revered, 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam learning.
There, he warmly embraced Sheikh Ahmed elTayeb, Al-Azhar’s grand imam who hosted the Pope and other senior Muslim leaders, students and scholars at a peace conference.
Speaking to the crowd, Francis recalled that Egypt’s ancient civilizations valued the quest for knowledge and open-minded education, and said a similar commitment to education is required today to combat the “barbarity” of religious extremism among the young.
While Al-Azhar has strongly condemned Islamic fundamentalism, Egypt’s pro-government media have accused its leadership of failing to do enough to reform the religious discourse in Islam and purge canonical books from outdated teachings and hatred for nonMuslims.
“As religious leaders, we are called to unmask violence that masquerades as purported sanctity,” Francis said to applause from the crowd. “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.
“To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred with violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness,” he added.
The Friday-Saturday visit is also meant to lift the spirits of Egypt’s large Christian community after three suicide bombings since December killed at least 75 people.