Pope says Egypt visit will go ahead

Indo Asian News Service

Vatican City, April 10 (IANS/AKI) Pope Francis has confirmed that his visit to Egypt will go ahead in late April despite the deadly bomb attacks against two Coptic churches there that killed at least 47 people and injured more than 100, a media report said on Monday.

"The Pope is undeterred by what sadly happened," Vatican Radio quoted Father Marco Tasco of Order of Friars Minor Conventuals as saying on Monday after an audience with Francis at the Vatican.

"With great determination and conviction he will travel to Egypt to confirm and assist dialogue and the Christian community," Tasco said.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican's inter-faith dialogue body on Monday left for Egypt "to prepare the ground" for the pontiff's two-day visit to the Muslim majority country on April 28-29, Tasco said.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on Monday declared a three-month state of emergency after the blasts at St George's Coptic church in the northern city of Tanta and St Mark's Coptic cathedral in Alexandria, also in the north.

Francis on Sunday condemned the attacks which were claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

During his visit to Egypt, Francis is also slated to meet Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, who was in St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria for the Palm Sunday service when the bomb went off outside the church, killing 17 people.

Sunday's blasts were the latest in a string of attacks on Copts in recent years and the visit by Francis is aimed at showing solidarity with the country's beleaguered Christian minority as well as enhancing dialogue with Islam.

The prestigious Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo has timed a global peace conference in Cairo to coincide with the papal visit and hopes Francis and Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb will close the meeting, sources told Adnkronos International last month.

Tayeb announced the peace conference last May during his historic meeting with Francis at the Vatican when they agreed to resume dialogue sessions in Cairo between the Vatican and the al-Azhar that were broken off in 2011 after Pope Benedict XVI deplored an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria.