By Hannah Brockhaus
The Vatican confirmed Monday that Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt at the end of the month will go on as planned, despite terrorist attacks which killed more than 43 people during Palm Sunday celebrations in the country.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, told journalists April 10 that “the Pope’s trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled.” The Pope himself also confirmed that the trip will take place, according to Franciscan Fr. Marco Tasca.
During a meeting April 10 with General Ministers of the Franciscan Order, Francis “very firmly confirmed his trip to Egypt,” Fr. Tasca said, adding that he is “very informed.”
Pope Francis plans to visit the Egyptian capital of Cairo April 28-29, in what is largely a bid to foster greater Catholic-Muslim dialogue, particularly on the point of ending extremist violence.
The first of Sunday’s attacks, a bomb at the Coptic Christian church of Mar Gerges in the northern city of Tanta, Egypt killed 27 people and wounded at least 71 more, according to BBC News.
A second blast took place shortly after outside of a Christian church in Alexandria, killing 17 and injuring another 35. The man, a suicide bomber, had tried to storm the entrance to the church before being stopped by police, three of whom died in the blast. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The attack in Alexandria narrowly missed harming the Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, who was participating in Mass inside the church.
After celebrating Palm Sunday Mass April 9, Pope Francis prayed for victims of “the attack that unfortunately took place today near Cairo,” voicing his closeness to Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, to and to the entire Coptic nation.
“I express my heartfelt sorrow,” he said, praying that the Lord would “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.”
His Holiness Pope Tawadros II is one of the religious leaders Pope Francis plans to meet with while in Cairo at the end of April. His schedule will also include a meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb.
The Pope will leave Rome at 10:45 am, April 28, arriving in Cairo around 2:00 pm.
After a brief welcoming ceremony and visit with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam will each give a speech at an international conference on peace.
Francis will then meet with state authorities and with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II.
On Saturday, April 29, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in the morning, followed by a meeting with Egypt’s bishops over lunch. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country.
In the afternoon Francis will meet with priests, religious and seminarians followed by a farewell ceremony before boarding the papal plane, which is scheduled to leave Cairo at 5:00 pm, arriving in Rome at 8:30 pm.
For a community already suffering from an attack which killed 30 at a church connected to the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo in December 2016, Sunday’s attacks have given rise to even greater concern over the security in Egypt.