Vatican City: Pope Francis will visit Cairo on April 28-29 at the invitation of the Egyptian president and the grand imam of the capital’s famed Al Azhar Mosque, the Vatican said on Saturday.
The pontiff had hosted the grand imam, Ahmad Al Tayeb, at the Vatican last May, in a landmark meeting with one of Islam’s top clerics.
That encounter was the culmination of a steady improvement in a relationship that had broken down because of a series of spats under Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI.
The current pope has made interfaith dialogue and reconciliation a leading theme of his pontificate and has also overseen an improvement in relations with the Orthodox and Protestant wings of Christianity.
The Argentine pope has a long-standing invitation to visit Egypt, issued by President President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi when he met Francis at the Vatican in 2014.
The pope will meet both the president and the grand imam, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement, adding that “this important visit will contribute to reinforcing the message of peace as well as the spirit of tolerance and humanity’s dialogue between all the religions and the rejection of ... terrorism and fanaticism”.
Francis will become the second Roman Catholic pope to visit Egypt, following John Paul II’s historic trip there in February 2000.
Relations were derailed under Benedict after rows over a 2006 speech in which he was seen as having linked Islam to violence and 2011 comments condemning an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria which Al Azhar denounced as meddling in Egypt’s affairs.