Pope Francis has urged an end to the funding of groups that promote violence, an act he said cannot be committed in the name of God.
During a speech in Egypt aimed at improving Christian-Muslim dialogue, the pontiff said religious leaders were “duty-bound” to unmask such violence.
He also condemned the “rise of demagogic forms of populism”.
The pontiff, on a 27-hour visit, was greeted on Friday by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at his palace in Cairo.
The Pope’s trip, which has drawn high security, comes three weeks after bombings at two Coptic churches killed 45 people.
The pontiff said that it was “essential” to “block the flow of money and weapons” bound for those who promote violence “which purports to be carried out in the name of the sacred”.
He also said that the recent rise of populism was detrimental to worldwide peace and stability.
“It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise,” the pontiff said.
The 80-year-old head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics was speaking on a visit to al-Azhar University, a key centre of Sunni Islamic learning.
Before the visit – the first papal trip to Cairo in 20 years – he said he was travelling as a “messenger of peace”.
It comes as Egypt’s Coptic Christians – who make up 10% of the country’s mainly Muslim population – face increased threats. The majority of the Copts are Orthodox, with less than 150,000 of them Catholic.
So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the Palm Sunday bombings, as well as a bombing which killed 28 people at Egypt’s main cathedral before Christmas.
The group’s Egyptian branch says Christians are its “favourite prey”.
Hundreds of Egyptian Christians fled northern Sinai earlier this year in the wake of at least seven killings by suspected Islamist militants.
‘Brotherhood and reconciliation’
The Pope is also due to meet Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of the 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic learning, al-Azhar.
Francis is expected to address a conference there on religious dialogue, as part of efforts to improve relations, after Egyptian Muslim leaders cut ties over comments made by Pope Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
Also attending the conference will be the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
Pope Francis will also meet the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, and walk with him to St Mark’s Cathedral, the scene of the December bombing.
In a message ahead of the trip, Francis said he wanted the visit to be “a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East” and “a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world”.
In a surprise TED talk earlier this week, delivered in a video, he lauded the values of humility, tenderness and hope, amid the “darkness of today’s conflicts”.
A three-month state of emergency is in place in the wake of the Palm Sunday bombings, and security has been boosted around churches.
But many Copts say the government should have done more earlier to protect them, and say they are also under pressure from sectarian tensions and long-standing discrimination.
Copts in Egypt: Recent developments
- April 2017: Bomb attacks at St George’s Coptic church in Tanta and St Mark’s Coptic church in Alexandria kill at least 45 people.
- February 2017: Hundreds of Coptic Christians flee Egypt’s Sinai peninsula after at least seven killings by suspected Islamic militants.
- December 2016: At least 28 people die when a bomb explodes at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo during a service. IS says it is behind the attack
- February 2016: A court sentences three Christian teenagers to five years in prison for insulting Islam. They had appeared in a video, apparently mocking Muslim prayers, but claimed they had been mocking IS following a number of beheadings
- April 2013: Two people are killed outside St Mark’s cathedral in Cairo when people mourning the death of four Coptic Christians killed in religious violence clash with local residents
Pope Francis urges end to violence carried out in God’s name}