Christians must be willing to forgive those who wrong them and are allowed to be “fanatical” about loving their neighbours, Pope Francis told Egyptian Catholics during a Mass celebrated under tight security at a football stadium in Cairo.
On the second and final day of his Egypt trip, the Pope led a colourful and jubilant liturgy for the country’s small Catholic community, which saw Francis greet cheering crowds on a golf cart to a mix of Arabic chants, the Hallelujah chorus from Georg Friedrich Handel and an Italian hymn named after the papal encyclical on the environment “Laudato’ Si.”
It was a moment that helped lift the spirits of the country’s Christian community which has felt increasingly under attack from extremist inspired violence and social discrimination: Catholics make up around 272,000 of the 9 million Christian population, the large majority being Coptic Orthodox.
At the Mass there was both a delegation of orthodox and representatives from the Anglican communion present at the Mass which took place in a celebratory atmosphere. Cheers and a large collection of balloons - including one holding an image of the Virgin Mary - greeted the Pope when he arrived at the Air Defense “30 June” stadium.
“The only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity!” the Pope told the crowd of 15,000 which filled about half of the stadium’s capacity. “Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!”
POPE IN EGYPT 2017
Francis’ homily reflected on the Road to Emmaus, gospel passage where the disciples journeying from Jerusalem initially failed to recognise Jesus even though he was walking among them.
“Unless we tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognise the face of God,” the Pope explained. “The experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus teaches us that it is of no use to fill our places of worship if our hearts are empty of the fear of God and of his presence. It is of no use to pray if our prayer to God does not turn into love for our brothers and sisters.
All our religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.”
The Mass was celebrated in a mixture of Latin and Arabic, with the Gospel chanted in the latter by a deacon and the Pope giving his homily in Italian which was simultaneously translated. As the liturgy was celebrated, however, helicopters flew overhead while on the road into the stadium in Cairo plain clothes police were stationed on virtually every rooftop.
But the Pope told urged Christians to “forgive those who have wronged us,” stressing that religious faith should defend others from injustice: his remarks come less than three weeks after 45 were killed following bomb attacks by Islamic extremists on two Coptic churches.
“True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane,” Francis said. “It moves us to love everyone without counting the cost, without distinction and without preference. It makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome, but a brother and sister to be loved, served and helped.”
Among those concelebrating the Mass today was Fr Bakhuom Eweida, a Coptic Franciscan friar who likened the Pope’s visit to the one undertaken by St Francis of Assisi to see Islamic leader Sultan Al-Kamil in Egypt 800 years ago.
“His visit is important because we are a small community,” he told The Tablet adding that Francis’s visit would offer a boost to tourism, a major source of the country’s income. “We are very happy he’s come to our country so we can show that we live as brothers and sisters and together with Muslims.”
Meanwhile, in what is thought be a first for a papal Mass, a drone was spotted circulating inside the stadium.
This afternoon Francis met with bishops, priests and seminarians of the Coptic Catholic community - made up of seven different rites - before flying back to Rome in the early evening.