In just one week’s time, Pope Francis takes off on a journey to the Egyptian capital Cairo, where he will visit the prestigious al-Azhar centre of Islamic studies. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world, is also expected to join the Holy Father there, alongside the Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have been invited by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb to attend an international peace conference there.
After Easter celebrations last Sunday at the Phanar, the headquarters of the Patriarchate of Constantinople located in modern-day Istanbul, Turkey, Bartholomew told his faithful that he had received a letter from Pope Francis expressing the hope that the two men would see one another again shortly.
Bartholomew said that moment could come “very soon.”
“I was also invited to the University of Al-Azhar at Cairo,” he said, “and on April 28 I could be with Pope Francis.”
As a result, it may well be that the leaders of both the Christian West and East join the head of the local Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, in presenting a united front in their meetings at Al-Azhar. That show of common cause will come roughly three weeks after bomb attacks at two Coptic churches left 45 people dead, with ISIS claiming responsibility.
Pope Francis and al-Tayyib had already been scheduled to speak at an international conference on peace at Al-Azhar in April, and presumably now Bartholomew, a longtime champion of ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, will join the program as well.
During the brief April 28th to 29th visit, the Pope will meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as celebrating Mass for the local Catholic community.