Exactly one week before the arrival of Pope Francis in Egypt for his two days apostolic journey (April 28 and 29), preparations for the latest logistical and organizational details are in full swing. To this end, the meetings of the Visit Organizing Committee, chaired by the Bishop of Luxor, Mgr. Emmanuel Bishay, follow one another. The Pope’s safety remains a priority, especially after the Palm Sunday attacks on the Orthodox Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria. The journey will be broadcast live by the first Egyptian National TV Broadcaster and covered by thousands of journalists who are overflowing the Organizing Committee with requests for accreditation. More than 70 journalists will go to Egypt aboard the Papal flight.
Mgr. Bishay, one week before the beginning of the visit, are there any special news as far as the organization is concerned ?
The new fact is the change of the venue for the Mass on Saturday, April 29, at 10 am. From a covered hall, adjacent to the Cairo Stadium, it was moved to the military aeronautics stadium, outside the city center. This choice offers a few advantages. The first one is the higher number of available seats, 25,000 instead of 18,000. This will enable us to meet the many requests of the faithful who wish to attend the Mass. Furthermore, as it is a military facility, it offers additional guarantees in terms of safety.
Will you meet all the requests, then?
For our Christians, the Pope’s visit is a dream coming true. But it is also a great joy for all of Egypt.
Pope Francis is much loved and appreciated also by the Egyptian Muslim community,
that likes the way he approaches Islam. For the Mass, I confess that I was in great trouble about the distribution of the entrances of the 25,000 faithful in the stadium, since everyone wants to participate in the celebration. In the end, I decided to divide them equally, by size and number, among the 13 Egyptian dioceses of all the Catholic rites in the country. Each diocese will thus have its right share of tickets.
For the Mass – the only Mass scheduled in the program – did you invite other religious leaders and civil authorities?
The Government’s authorities have been invited to the Mass, and it is very likely, even if still to be confirmed, that President Al Sisi will be there as well. Expected guests include Pope Tawadros, the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch; the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch, Theodorus of Alexandria; and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who, as he attended the al-Azhar’s conference, will most likely attend the Mass too. Anglican and Protestant leaders are also expected to be there.
The Mass will be a great symphony of chants performed by six corals representing the various Catholic rites that are active in Egypt also as a sign of a universal and united Church.
Dignity and simplicity will characterize the altar and the two ambones. The Offertory procession will include people of various ages: children, families, newlyweds, and even a blind girl who will thus make true her dream of meeting the Pope. For the rest we hope that the Pope will make us some surprise, as St. John Paul II did during his journey to Egypt in 2000 when he greeted the crowd in Arabic saying “peace to you!” Those words remained in the memory of many.
Among the faithful there will be many young people. The program, however, does not provide for special moments with them. Is that right?
For young people we have planned to organize a two-day pilgrimage from their respective dioceses to Cairo, where they will meet to prepare for the celebration with the Pope. We expect about 3,000 participants.
On the evening of Friday, April 28, 300 young people will have the opportunity to greet the Pope in the nunciature, with singing and feasting. Immediately after dinner
the Pope will appear at the balcony of the Vatican embassy to greet young people
but we cannot rule out last minute surprises. The Pope could also go down and greet the young people personally.
An outstanding moment of the program of Friday 28 will be the courtesy visit to the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II. How will it take place?
Toghether with Pope Tawadros II and the leaders of the Christian Churches, Pope Francis will pay homage to the martyrs of the Orthodox Coptic Church who were killed during the recent terrorist attacks that have affected Egypt in the last few weeks and have especially targeted the Christian community.
It will be a silent and spontaneous prayer in front of the wall of St. Peter’s Church, adjacent to the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark in the al-Abassiya district, where on December 11 an attack caused the death of dozens of people.
On that day, the bodies of the wounded and the corpses were moved from inside the Church to a wall outside the Church. The wall became soaked with their blood. Today, a protective glass has been placed in front of the wall and the place has become a destination for pilgrimage and prayer, a true “wall of the martyrs”. After meeting with Pope Tawadros, Pope Francis will place a bunch of flowers and will light candles in memory of the victims of all the attacks in Egypt.
Did they provide for special security measures after the slaughtering of Palm Sunday?
Security is at the highest level. All measures have been put in place to ensure maximum safety for the Pope. On the Vatican side there is the utmost serenity and confidence in the work of the Egyptian Authorities. The Holy See has completely entrusted itself to the Egyptian Security.
How will Pope Francis move around?
Pope Francis will use a simple sedan, at his precise indication.
As for the internal transportation, both within the stadium and in the Seminary’s sports field, where in the afternoon of Saturday he will meet 1,500 seminarians, clergymen, and women and men religious, the Pope will use a Wolkswagen Golf. Here again, at the exact request of the Pope, we have chosen the simplest and most sober car. Even at the seminary, we expect some surprising gesture from the Pope.
Just a few days before the arrival of the Pope, what are your wishes for this visit and how do you feel about it?
I have been a bishop for only ten months and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I experience the joy of being able to participate in the organization of this journey. On the other hand, I feel like a drop in the ocean. I am the drop. The Holy Father is the ocean. I found great readiness to help in the local Church. Just ask for something and your request immediately becomes reality. We had the widest cooperation from the Government. This is because
the Pope’s visit must be a feast throughout Egypt.
Thanks to this apostolic journey
our Country wants to get out of this heavy climate, dense of pain, and get into a new spring.
The Holy Father is taking us by the hand to meet a future of light, despite the waves of violence that break against us.