Eight hundred years later, another Francis goes back to Egypt to try to build bridges of peace with Islam. It is the Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the throne of Peter on the evening of the 13 March 2013, the first Pope to take the name of the Poor man of Assisi, St. Francis, universally recognized as the Saint of peace and of the defence of the Creation.
Pope Bergoglio will go on a pilgrimage to Cairo in the footsteps of the similar journey made in 1219 by S. Francis to meet the Sultan of Egypt. Eight centuries separate the two events, but are intimately linked by similar sentiments, aims, hopes, desire of encounter and dialog.
The Pope who defies wars
The Pope had the courage to entrust his ministry to St. Francis in everything and for everything, in gestures, in words and in the examples, starting from the defence of peace, from the preferential love for the poor and the promotion of interreligious dialog. And the trip to Egypt goes exactly in this direction, despite the winds of war never cease to sow destruction and death, as it happened on the evening of 20 April in Paris (one of the capital of Europe most targeted by Islamic terrorism), in Aleppo during the Easter holidays, but also in the previous days with terrorist attacks of the so-called Islamic matrix in Egypt, in Stockholm and in London.
But bombs, attacks and death threats will not stop the pilgrimage of peace of Bergoglio. And, certainly will not compromise “all necessary efforts that every person of goodwill is called to put into practice“, they ensure in the Vatican where – after the Easter celebrations during which Pope Francis both at the Way of the Cross on Good Friday and in the Urbi et Orbi Message of Easter Sunday has strongly condemned the warlords and the arms dealers – the entourage of the Pope has prepared the journey to Egypt. The country for which the Holy Father after the bombings of Palm Sunday against the Coptic community, raised a prayer to the Lord that convert the hearts of those who sow terror”, recalling that “Jesus is always close to those who suffer due to war and terrorism”.
Like the Saint of Assisi
Words that testify to the great spontaneous closeness of the Pope to the sufferings of the victims of all conflicts, to the persecuted Christians and to the Egyptian Copts. A pastoral journey among the most difficult and delicate that Jorge Mario Bergoglio – “without being influenced by bombs and attacks”, ensure at the Vatican – will make under the spotlights of the whole world, clinging symbolically on the force, on the will and on the determination showed by S. Francis when in September 1219 – after the first two failed attempts to reach the Holy Land – was welcomed at Damietta, just a few kilometres from Cairo, by the Sultan of Egypt Malik al Kamil, with whom he had a long fraternal conversation focused on dialog and on reciprocal curiosity of knowledge, while the wars between crusaders and Muslims was going on.
Peace and Brotherhood
Two trips – the one of the Saint of Assisi and the one of the reigning Pope – which reveal how big is the feeling of “peace and brotherhood” that there is between the two Francis, as recalled by Father Mauro Gambetti, guardian of the Sacred Convent of Assisi, where millions of pilgrims every year come to pray, in a note-appeal in the aftermath of the recent terrorist massacres. ‘It is war. It is the massacre on the massacre – complains – stopping the violence is everyone’s task. And from Assisi rises the cry of prayer for all those who are suffering in this moment. The hope is that the reasons of peace prevail “. Reasons that will “necessarily” be the focus of the Egyptian journey of the Pope.
The dialog with Islam
The new papal pilgrimage is made more necessary in front of the escalation of terrorist attacks in Europe and in the East, and to the winds of nuclear war that blow along the Korean boundaries. A mission that Bergoglio intends to “use” also to revive the dialog with the Muslim countries 11 years after the lectio of Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg. Speech during which the then Pontiff warned, inter alia, that interreligious dialog, “if we wish to avoid the errors of history”, should not be done with the sword, but only and simply with words and mutual respect. Words almost predictable, but which – due to approximations and prejudices from part of the most radical components of the Muslim world – were deemed offensive by the most Islamic extremist and gave life to waves of protests that led to the crisis in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Islam of the whole Middle East. After the speech of Regensburg, Vatican diplomacy with the first journey of Pope Francis in Egypt – even if there is no mention in the official program – also aims to heal the rift of 2006, with two days of meetings with the highest Muslim and civilian authorities. Awaited is the visit to the university of al-Azhar, the historic seat of Islamic Sunnis Studies, where the Holy Father will be welcomed by the Grand Imam Amhad Muhammad Amhad al-Tayyid. There is also great expectation for the meeting with the Coptic Pope, Tawadros, escaped by miracle from the attack on the Church of Alexandria.
The Pope, finally, perhaps may also be the spokesman of the requests for the truth about the murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, mysteriously killed last year in Egypt after being arrested by the local police on the complaint of a spy-trade unionist. The parents of Regeni have publicly asked it to Bergoglio, inviting him to take up the issue during the meeting with the civil authorities of Egypt. This is a hope, even if there is no trace of Regeni in the official program of the journey. But with Francis everything is possible and unpredictable surprises are always on the agenda.