Johannes Paul II i Moses' fotspor på Sinai

Will Promote Dialogue Between Orthodox and Muslims in Egypt

CAIRO, FEB 22 (ZENIT).- The Pope's trip to Egypt from February 24-26 will be brief but intense. This will the first visit of a Roman Pontiff to this country. There, he will be greeted by high government officials and Islamic leaders, as well as leaders of the different Christian Churches.

The Holy Father's primary objective is to fulfill his long awaited dream of going on pilgrimage to the places of Revelation, which he will began "spiritually" today and will continue later in the week when he goes to Mount Sinai, where Moses heard God's voice, where he saw the burning bush, and where the Creator revealed his name: "I am who am." The memory of these events has been carefully preserved at St. Katharine's Monastery in Sinai, attested by 16 centuries of pilgrimages, represented by a fortress of prayer and stone erected at Mount Sinai's base in 330.

John Paul II will arrive at St. Katharine's on Saturday, February 26, on the last stage of his journey to Egypt. At present there are 25 monks living in the Monastery, which is open to visitors for 2 hours every day. One of the places of recollection, not readily accessible to the public, is the Basilica of the Transfiguration. The mosaic of the apse is hidden by a veritable forest of lamps suspended from the ceiling. The walls are covered with icons, some lost in the distance and thus failing to be appreciated. But a bit of patience will enable the visitor to capture the spirit of this singular Church. Built in the 6th century, it features a chapel dedicated to the burning bush, fulfilling one of St. Helen's dreams in 330, on a site ideally suited for a monastic community.

The monks' decision to welcome the Pope has stirred some controversy in the Greek Orthodox Church to which they belong. But they are able to go ahead with their plans, thanks to the historic autonomy this Sinai community enjoys. Thus, this will be the Holy Father's first meeting with the ancient Greek Church.

The Pontiff will be received by Bishop Damianos, Superior of the Monastery. He will be taken to see the well from which Jethro's daughters drew water. In that place Moses defended them, and was rewarded by receiving one of them as his wife. The liturgy of the Word will take place in a grove called the "Garden of Olives." According to tradition, the burning bush was here, which told Moses to take off his sandals. The relics of the martyr Katharine are also kept here. She was a woman from Alexandria tortured for her faith at the beginning of the 4th century, at the time of emperor Maxentius.

John Paul II will pray in St. Katharine's Monastery, and will later make a brief visit to the Monastery's famous library, considered the third best collection of ancient manuscripts, after the Vatican and the Escorial in Spain. This will be followed by an open air prayer service presided by the Pontiff. Hundreds of youths will arrive from Cairo in buses and gather in the Garden of Olives in front of the Monastery for the service.

The Holy Father's pilgrimage to Egypt will begin on February 24. He will arrive in Cairo at 2 p.m., and be greeted at the international airport by president Hosni Mubarak and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas. At 6 p.m. he will arrive in the heart of Cairo, at Amba Roueiss, the residence of Shenouda III, the highest authority of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, known as the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Preaching of St. Mark. He will visit the mortal remains of St. Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria. Formerly, the Evangelist's remains were conserved in Venice, Italy, but they were given to the Coptic Orthodox Church by Pope Paul VI.

Immediately afterwards, John Paul II will visit Imam Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority of the Islamic world. The visit will take place in the Imam's new headquarters, near the University mosque of Al Azhar, in front of the City of the Dead.

After the marathon of meetings, the Pope will retire to the Apostolic Nunciature, in the residential zone of Zamelek, on the Island of Guezira.

The Holy Father's second day in Egypt will begin in the early morning with a Mass for the Catholic community in Cairo's indoor stadium. The Mass, which originally was to be celebrated in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral, was moved to the stadium because the Cathedral only has room for 2,000 persons. The stadium has a capacity for 20,000, but for security reasons, only 15,000 will be able to attend. The Pope will later dine in the Nunciature with Egyptian Patriarchs and Bishops.

At 5:30 p.m. an ecumenical meeting will be held in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Egypt, inaugurated last Christmas. Among others, the celebration will include leaders of all the Christian denominations in the country. Given the restricted number of places in the Church, many Christians will have to remain outside, but it is hoped that Egyptian television, which generally ignores Christian events, will broadcast this historic event live.

Following the Pope's visit to St. Katharine's Monastery, his principal engagement on February 26, he will return to Cairo to board his plane at 6 p.m. to return to Rome.

Zenit - The World Seen From Rome

av Webmaster publisert 25.02.2000, sist endret 25.02.2000 - 00:08