One of the great tragedies of recent conflicts in the Middle East, most of which have involved the United States, is that Christian communities — many of them there since the time of Christ — have been uprooted, perhaps never to return.
Another ongoing tragedy is that many conflicts in the world have taken on an inter-religious aspect, deliberately instigated or aggravated by irresponsible leaders with, again, U.S. political figures not absent from the thoughtless fray. These struggles have included Buddhists vs. Muslims in Myanmar, Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims in Yemen and Iraq, and Sunnis vs. Alawites in Syria. Never mind the Balkans or the Han Chinese vs. the Muslim Uighurs in Western China.
Pope Francis has just carried out a mission to Egypt, one of the scenes of two aspects of the problem, to try to push back on it through contact, discussion and prayer with very senior Muslim leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Islamic authority. For Francis to go there at all was a courageous, conscientious act, literally putting his life at risk, showing the importance he attaches to making the statement.
In recent months, Islamic State elements have in Egypt bombed Coptic Christian churches, attempted assassinations and driven many Christian families from their homes in Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta, most recently on Palm Sunday. The pope also met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Sissi has pledged to counter the efforts of the Islamic State to terrorize Egypt’s religious groups. It is also partly true that his own dictatorial approach to governance, having arrived in power through a military coup d’etat, contributes to the unsettled state of affairs there.
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Pope Francis II should be lauded to what he has done, for what he is trying to do. Would that others took a comparable path toward inter-religious peace.