Rome (Agenzia Fides) – Pope Francis is happy to visit “as a friend, as a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim to the country that, over two thousand years ago, gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod”. This he said in a video-message broadcast this morning to the Egyptian people on the eve of his brief but demanding visit to the north African country (28-29 April), adding that he is “honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family!”.
In the papal video-message, the Bishop of Rome speaks highly of Egypt “the cradle of civilization, the gift of the Nile, the land of sun and hospitality, the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard.” The Pope thanks the civil and religious authorities who invited him beginning with President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and expresses his desire that this visit may bear “witness to my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East, a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world, in which Egypt holds so important a place”. Making implicit mention of the recent attacks on Palm Sunday , Pope Francis continues “our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land…which needs peace, love and mercy” and therefore “needs people who can build bridges of peace, dialogue, fraternity, justice and humanity”.
Reference to the Holy Family’s flight and stay in Egypt constitutes another reflection of the communion between the Bishop of Rome and pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Church which Pope Francis, in his message addresses as “the venerable and beloved Copt Orthodox Church”. The spirituality of Egyptian Christians treasures the memory of the time spent by Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Egypt narrated in the Gospel of Matthew. On 27 March, Patriarch Tawadros, during a televised interview, offered consolation and encouragement to the Christians of Egypt after the wave of jihadist terrorist violence in northern Sinai, recalling that it was to Egypt that the Holy Family, fleeing from Herod, came to find refuge and protection .
As Fides reported last month (see Fides 21/3/2017), precisely a new launching of the Holy Family Way – as an itinerary for pilgrimages to places where, according to millenary local traditions, the Holy Family lived while in exile in Egypt – is central to discussion among political leaders and Egyptian tourist operators . At the beginning of this year, 2017, Al Abdel Aal, Speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives, during a visit to the Copt Patriarch offices, said the valorisation of the tourist project for an itinerary according to the path followed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, was of interest and importance for all Egyptians, not only Christians . On that occasion, the declaration of intent from the Speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives was swiftly answered by Moataz Sayed, vice-chairman of the Association of Tourist Guides in Egypt, who pointed out that so far promises voiced by politicians regarding the promotion of the “Holy Family Way” had produced nothing, despite commitments made in the past by minsters and premiers beginning with Ibrahim Mahalab, Egyptian Prime Minister between March 2014 to September 2015.
The first proposals to promote also in a touristic key a ‘Holy Family Way’, were made twenty years ago. At the end of 2016 – local sources told Fides – a Commission to promote the ‘Holy Family Way’ chaired by Hisham el Demeiri was constituted at Egypt’s Tourism Ministry. Two years earlier (see Fides 21/10/2014) an itinerary had been identified in the footsteps of the Holy Family in Egypt which would start at Al-Arish – largest city of the Egyptian governorate of North Sinai and the scene of recent Jihadist violence against Copt Christians – continue on to the Wadi Natrun delta, and reach the Asyut Holy Mary Virgin Monastery, known as Deir Al-Muharraq. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 25/4/2017).