Pope Francis' plane lands in Egypt for historic 2-day visit

On Friday Francis is scheduled to begin a two-day pilgrimage to Egypt aimed at lifting the spirits of Christians in the Middle East whose numbers have

On Friday Francis is scheduled to begin a two-day pilgrimage to Egypt aimed at lifting the spirits of Christians in the Middle East whose numbers have

The Catholic pontiff will hold a series of deeply symbolic meetings with Egypt's religious and political leaders and participate in an worldwide peace conference organized by Al-Azhar, the world's primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning. There, he will meet privately with grand imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, and participate in an worldwide peace conference later in the afternoon.

During a speech in Cairo on Friday to Egyptian officials and diplomats from around the world, Francis also praised Egypt's president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, for repudiating religiously-inspired attacks, while also insisting on the "unconditional respect for inalienable human rights".

Pope Francis is also expected to stress the need for dialogue among civilisations and not just among religions.

Pope Francis then offered his praise for various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace "are essential goods that merit every sacrifice".

Later Friday, Francis will head to the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church, whose followers are the vast majority of Egypt's estimated nine million Christians, to meet its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II.

Francis is in Egypt on a 27-hour visit to push for dialogue with Muslims and support the country's embattled Christian minority that has suffered a series of jihadist attacks.

Following a low-key welcome he was whisked away in a Fiat auto with a Vatican flag and number plate for a private meeting with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the presidential palace, a building previously used as a military hospital by the British during both world wars. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.

Francis departed Cairo airport with the window of his blue fiat rolled down, in keeping with his wishes for a normal vehicle and not an armored motorcade.

He will also show solidarity and bring a message of peace to a country that has for years endured an increasingly emboldened insurgency led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group. Two children, a girl in a white dress and a boy in a black tuxedo, presented Francis with bouquets of flowers.

The visit comes almost three weeks after the Palm Sunday bombing of two Coptic churches, brazen strikes that left at least 45 people dead.

Streets close to the Vatican embassy in Cairo and other sites have been cleared of cars and blocked off, and pedestrians were not allowed to linger.

Francis flew from Rome to Egypt this morning telling journalists on board the papal plane that he was on a mission of "unity and brotherhood" in a country that is seeing a rise in Islamic terrorist attacks against the country's ancient Christian community.

Almost all of Egypt's Christians are Orthodox Copts.

"The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation", it reads.

Pope Francis arrived in Egypt on Friday, kicking off a two-day trip created to forge Muslim-Christian brotherhood and show solidarity with the country's persecuted Coptic Christian minority.

His first stop was the opulent Ittihadya palace, where he met with el-Sissi.

Security men are posted every hundred yards or so along the 20-kilometer (12-mile) stretch between the airport and central Cairo in anticipation of Pope Francis' arrival in Egypt.

Banners in the Zamalek neighborhood welcomed Francis, with one from a private company saying "1,000,000 workers of Sharm el-Sheikh welcome the pontiff".

"Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families - some of them are present among us - who mourn their sons and daughters", he said, recalling the many youth, police, and Coptic citizens who have become "nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism". Francis made his forceful appeal during a long and at times lyrical speech at a peace conference organised by Cairo's Al-Azhar university, the leading centre of Sunni Islamic thought.

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