On this day in 2000, Pope John Paul II arrived in Egypt to retrace some of the most epic passages from the bible. The pilgrimage to Cairo, the first by a Roman-Catholic pope, afforded John Paul a chance to “go to where God revealed his name to Moses and gave his law as a sign of his great mercy and kindness to mankind.”
This the 90th trip of his 22-year papacy happened at a time when recent clashes between Egypt’s predominantly Muslim community and minority Orthodox Christians had left 23 people dead. The pope used the trip to promote dialogue between the sides as a better way of living with different views than resorting to violence.
Addressing the country in an airport speech, Pope John Paul II said, “As salamu – alaykum, Peace be upon you,” demonstrating the desire for peace in both religions.
He paid calls on both the Coptic pope, Shenouda III, leader of the major Christian church in Egypt, and Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, sheik of Al Azhar, who was the highest authority of the Sunni Muslim faith.
Using ancient biblical symbols to press for reconciliation and reduce tensions, the Pope admonished Egyptians on both sides:
“To do harm, to promote violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible contradiction and offense against God. We must all work to strengthen the growing commitment to inter-religious dialogue, a great sign for hope for the peoples of the world.”