By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

As Pope Francis arrived in Cairo for an historic meeting with religious leaders, members of Edmonton’s faith communities gathered to watch a live broadcast of the event.

“He’s invited to a Muslim country. He treats them as brothers and sisters. This is something that every Catholic should be proud of,” said Shiraz Kanji, president of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre.

“Peace is a gift of God but also the work of man,” Pope Francis said at the International Peace Conference on April 28, hosted by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque.

The pope met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. The World Council of Churches and His Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, were also invited.

“That all of these patriarchs are gathered in the same place at the same time at the invitation of the Muslim community and the Republic of Egypt, it’s historic,” said Julien Hammond, ecumenical officer of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Hammond invited the city’s religious leaders, on behalf of Archbishop Richard Smith, to Corpus Christi Church to watch a broadcast of the historic meeting.

“What I love about this is we know in the public arena there’s so much hostility, but what we are doing here and what they are doing in Egypt, is showing that just because we may disagree on certain points does not mean that we can’t get along. We can get along,” said Rev. Matthew-Anthony Hysell, associate pastor at Corpus Christi Parish.

“Any invitation for love we accept it. Any invitation for peace we accept it,” said Father Youhanna John Farag, pastor of St. Mary and St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Edmonton.

“This visit of His Holiness Pope Francis was for peace and love. This is the message His Holiness came to Egypt with, and we appreciate his effort all around the world.”

The pope focused on the education of the new generation, the value of love and true peace.

“May the word that was spoken, that was heard today, work its way into the fabric of the education of the generations that are coming up,” said Brother Bob Gal, community chaplain for the chapel at West Edmonton Mall.

The pope’s visit came on the heels of the deadly Palm Sunday bombings of two Coptic churches in Egypt that killed 45 people.

“This is not new to us. We’ve been under attack as long as we are conveying the message of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Father Farag said.

“And this is what He taught us in the Bible: You are going to face tribulations and afflictions because you are my children, because I faced the same. So actually, this is an honour for us, as long as we know that this is the way to the kingdom of heaven.”

The visit to Egypt was a first for Pope Francis. It also comes on the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Egypt.

For texts of the speeches made during the visit and of the Common Declaration signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Tawadros II, visit the Vatican website at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2017/outside/documents/papa-francesco-egitto_2017.html