From the Tiber to the Nile
The papal plane touched down at Cairo International Airport shortly after 2 p.m. having flown over the Nile Delta and the sandy colored houses of the Egyptian capital. In the distance, the silhouettes of the pyramids reminded the papal entourage and the journalists on board that we were about to land in a country with ancient civilization, of which the people of Egypt are the heirs.
In fact, in his first speech at the University of Al-Azhar, the pope began by recalling how Egypt had a “glorious history” and evoked the “search for wisdom” that has always characterized its civilization: wisdom, talent, art, astronomy. But this land of water and sand, both fertile and arid, contains striking contrasts. Egypt’s porous stone is also soaked with the blood of martyrs. The wisdom of knowledge, which is open to the other, to diversity, seems threatened by a violence that denies otherness, and fails to recognize who this other represents.
During his journey from the Tiber to the Nile, being aware of these tensions, Francis wanted to visit “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 journey may have lasted just 27 hours, but its intensity seems to have dilated the hours and minutes.
“In response to the invitation from the President of the Republic, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt April 28-29, 2017, visiting the city of Cairo.” This was the announcement made by the Holy See Press Office on March 18. A pope invited by all the elements present in a society, at times in tension with each other.