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Orla Guerin reports from Cairo
"In a country where religious violence has claimed lives, he has come to plead for tolerance"
 real 28k

BBC's Frank Gardner in Cairo
"With simple words spoken in Arabic, Pope John Paul won the hearts of Egyptians"
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 20:20 GMT
Pope pleads for harmony between faiths

Pope John Paul and Pope Shenuda
Pope John Paul II meets Pope Shenuda III


The Pope has begun an historic visit to Egypt with a plea for harmony between different religious groups.

The comments from John Paul II came after he arrived in Cairo for a three-day visit with the country's Coptic Christian minority. He is the first Pope to visit the mainly Muslim country.

"To promote violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible contradiction and a terrible offence against God," he said in an opening address.

The Pope with Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi The Pope with Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi
"But past and present history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion."

He said he hoped to see a Middle East peace in which the rights and legitimate aspirations of all peoples would be respected.

Within hours of arriving, he had met one of the most senior Muslim figures in Egypt, the Sunni cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi. The two men shook hands.


Past and present history give us many examples of a misuse of religion
Pope John Paul II
John Paul II also met the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Shenuda III, whose church does not recognise the authority of the Vatican.

Shenuda told John Paul he "hoped all efforts for Christian unity may go forward through your help." and called the Pontiff "a man of politics, a man of religion and a man respected by all."

John Paul II is the first Roman Catholic pope to visit Egypt. He was greeted at Cairo Airport by the country's leader, President Hosni Mubarak.

Church Egypt is home to the Arab world's largest Christian minority
Our correspondent says the visit is not welcomed in every corner but, for the Egyptian Government, it is a triumph in public relations.

Egypt's estimated six million Coptic Christians are a small but prosperous minority in a mainly Muslim country of 64 million.

But there have been tensions between the two communities. In January, 22 people died in the village of Al-Kosheh in an outbreak of fighting between Christian and Muslim shopkeepers.

Suspicions

Critics of the Pope's visit accuse him of seeking to extend the Vatican's influence in the Middle East. Such suspicions are rife in the remote Greek Orthodox monastery of St Catherine's on Mount Sinai.

It is there that Moses is believed to have received the 10 commandments from God.

Pope John Paul is due to make a pilgrimage there on Saturday, but the monks have asked him not to hold mass within their monastery walls.

The Pope says he will pray "intensely" for religious harmony during his visit to the site.

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See also:
24 Feb 00 |  World
In pictures: The Pope in Egypt
23 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Who are Egypt's Christians?
22 Feb 00 |  Background
Egypt's fragile Coptic community
09 Jan 00 |  Middle East
'Hand-outs' for religious violence victims
04 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Funerals for victims of Egypt clashes
08 Jan 00 |  Middle East
More arrests after Egypt clashes

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