For Fr. Rafic Greiche Francis has "erased" the distances between people and faiths. A visit of "immense importance" after the attacks on churches: "It has brought joy to everyone". Too soon to say if it will change something with al-Azhar but "we are on the right path". Muslims affected by the "modesty" of "a man of God". For Catholics, an invitation to "unity".
Cairo (AsiaNews) - The great legacy left by Pope Francis's apostolic visit to Egypt last weekend is "the gift of peace," the testimony of a shepherd who "creates bridges" and "erases distance" between people and among faithful of different religion. Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, comments in an interview with AsiaNews on the visit of the pontiff to the Land of the Pharaohs. During the two days in Egypt, Bergoglio met with the president of the Republic al-Sisi, the great imam of al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayeb, and celebrated a mass in front of tens of thousands of faithful.
"A visit of immense importance and great significance [political and spiritual] - adds the priest - especially after the bombings of two churches, attacks, mourning and suffering. The Pope has brought a new wave of peace and joy to all. "
Fr. Rafic was among the first to welcome Pope Francis at the airport in Cairo on April 28, just a few minutes after the flight landing in the Egyptian capital (pictured, the priest greeting the pontiff). "As soon as he approached," the priest said, "I have welcomed him and told him," We are happy to welcome You. " He replied in Italian, 'I'm also happy to be here and to see you'. The Pope then confirmed the 'great desire' to come to Egypt. "
The most obvious fact about the visit is that "Francis did not come as a political leader and was not received as Obama, Putin or other world leaders." All Egyptians, he adds, Muslims and Christians have realized that "he is a man of peace" and this is "important on a spiritual level, especially for Muslims." There are those, Fr. Rafic confirms, "who looked at Pope Francis with different eyes than political leaders, religious or dignitaries who had come in the past."
It was a "special event", which received a "huge echo" among people and the media. "Even newspapers - he stresses - have spoken and written about the visit, and they continue to do it even these days. The media celebrated the pope of peace, who came to the land of peace to bring fresh air, new air to Egypt. " "For Christians - said the spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church - it was not just the Pope's visit. The faithful have felt the presence of Jesus Christ, not a religious leader, but as something coming from heaven. For us Christians, but also for the Muslims themselves and with all the people, a deep bond, a mutual affection has been created in these two days. "
Meeting with Pope Francis, looking closely at the gestures and listening to the words, explains Fr. Rafic, "Egyptian Muslims felt as if they were in the presence of a man of God." Statements "also reaffirmed yesterday by some newspapers," he adds, when the echo of the visit should have been almost nil. "That's why this is a very important event." In addition, the Muslim community [the vast majority in the country, almost 90% Sunni] "was impressed by his modesty, by choosing to travel in a non-luxurious car to cross the stadium threshold for mass without protection, in an open car. To confirm a man who is not afraid, but is strong in the faith and in the protection of God. "
If the Pope's journey struck the Muslims deeply, it is "too early" to say whether it "will change something" in relations with the highest Islamic institutions, first of all the al-Azhar University in Cairo. "We need to look closely at how relations will develop," warns the spokesperson of the Egyptian Catholic Church - but we are on the right path, dialogue and fraternal collaboration. We must remain open to ideas and confrontation."
Finally, the hope that this trip will bring greater attention from the world's politicians and leaders "to the fate of Christians" in Egypt and throughout the Middle East." Communities that have "thousands of years" behind them and "do everything to preserve" this land, so that it is not "emptied of the Christian presence." And for Catholics, concludes Fr. Rafic, the hope is they will "start thinking about themselves as one thing, because the many Catholic institutions in Egypt, work in isolation, instead we hope they can discover the value, strength, and the importance of unity."