VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will visit Egypt in late April, reflecting improved Vatican-Muslim dialogue after years of tension that developed during the previous papacy of Benedict XVI.
The Vatican said Saturday that details of the April 28-29 trip will be announced soon.
In Egypt, presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said the visit to the majority Muslim nation comes in response to an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who met Francis when he visited the Vatican in late 2014.
The Vatican said the pope was going also upon invitations from Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox church leader Pope Tawadros II and the grand imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib.
In May 2016, the imam came to the Vatican, where the pope embraced him. That meeting was seen as reopening an important channel for Catholic-Muslim dialogue after Al-Azhar had frozen relations with the Vatican. The freeze was triggered by demands by Benedict in 2011 for greater protection of Christians in Egypt following a New Year's Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 people.
Youssef said that during his visit Francis will meet el-Sissi, as well as the imam, who is Egypt's top Muslim cleric, and Tawadros. He said Egypt hopes the visit will cement the "spirit of tolerance and dialogue" among followers of different faiths and further isolate extremism and terrorism.
Last month, the Vatican's point man on Muslim relations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, participated in a conference at Al-Azhar focused on how Muslim and Catholic leaders can work to counter fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.
Hendawi reported from Cairo.
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