IT IS the duty of all religious leaders to “unmask” violence that masquerades as piety, and constantly reaffirm the sanctity of life, Pope Francis has said.
Speaking at a peace conference in Cairo during a two-day visit to Egypt last week (News, 28 April), he said that violence was “the negation of every authentic religious expression”.
Speaking immediately after comments by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Professor Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, Pope Francis said that the Sixth Commandment — “You shall not murder” — “resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages”.
“Peace alone, therefore, is holy, and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God; for it would profane his name,” he said. “As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity.”
The comments are likely to be interpreted as a challenge to the Muslim world, and, in particular, religious authorities in Egypt.
The Christian minority in Egypt has been targeted repeatedly by Islamist terrorists in recent months: two bomb attacks on Palm Sunday killed at least 44 people (News, 13 April).
Pope Francis also visited a Coptic cathedral targeted by a suicide bomb attack, that killed 24 worshippers, mostly women and children, in December (News, 16 December).
The service, at St Peter and St Paul, Cairo, was also attended by the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II. The growing closeness between the Roman Catholic and Coptic Churches was “sustained, in a mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood”, the Pope said.
During the service, while prayers were being said at the site of the suicide bombing, Pope Francis placed his hand on a pane of glass on top of a wall, still covered in bloodstains from December’s atrocity, The New York Times reported.
Later, the two Popes published a joint declaration, affirming for the first time that their two Churches will recognise each other’s baptisms, meaning that those who change from one denomination to the other will no longer have to be rebaptised.
The statement also calls for a fixed, shared date for Easter, and a common translation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Earlier, Pope Francis had met the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power in a military coup in 2013, overthrowing the elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi (News, 5 July 2013) .
Many Copts supported Mr Sisi’s takeover, believing that the secular military man was more likely to protect them from Islamist terror. The Pope praised President al-Sisi for speaking out against religious extremism, but also said that “history does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.”
A spokesman for the Coptic Church, Fr Boulos Halim, told Reuters: “It’s in the state’s interests to protect its nationals, and the Copts are not an independent people: they are part and parcel of the nation itself.”