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Pope attends service at bombed church

Pope Francis pleaded for peace in a visit to Egypt on Friday as he attended a service in solidarity with the embattled Coptic minority at a church bombed by Daesh.

The pontiff walked to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church in Cairo in a procession led by standard-bearing clergy, after meeting Coptic Pope Tawadros II at his headquarters.

Security forces in the capital were on high alert under a state of emergency following a series of church bombings claimed by IS.

On April 9, the militants bombed two churches in the Arab world’s most populous country, killing 45 people in the deadliest attack on Copts in recent memory.

Last December, the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church was itself targeted by a suicide bomber in an attack that killed 29 people.

Francis had earlier met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of the Al-Azhar institution, one of Muslim world’s leading authorities, to push for dialogue between the two faiths.

In a speech to a Muslim-Christian conference, the 80-year-old pontiff denounced violence and populism.

“Peace alone… is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” Francis said.

He criticized what he called “demagogic forms of populism… on the rise”, saying they were unhelpful to peace.
Francis shuttled from one engagement to another in a closed car under heavy guard on the first day of his tightly scheduled 27-hour trip.

Innocent blood
Police and soldiers stood guard outside the Vatican residence in Cairo and armoured cars were stationed outside the Coptic Orthodox Saint Mark’s Cathedral, where Tawadros II’s headquarters are located.

Francis met the Coptic pope at his offices where the two exchanged gifts.

“Our church and nation has been through a painful experience in the past few months when the sinful hand of terrorism reached out to murder praying innocents,” Tawadros said in a speech at the meeting.

“Their innocent blood unites us,” Francis said in turn. (AFP)

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