Pope Francis' imminent visit to Al-Azhar may give him the chance to show the persecuted Egyptian Christians that he stands by them. However, he needs to ensure that the meeting will include an insistence to protect the Christian minority, according to an analysis by Crux editor John L. Allen Jr.
Should Pope Francis' planned visit to Al-Azhar push through, he may have to make sure that he will call for the protection of Christians in Egypt. This is necessary so that local believers will not think that the meeting is just a cover-up for the persecution they are suffering, Crux said in an analysis published on March 14.
The Vatican has already confirmed that it is working on Pope Francis' trip to Egypt this year. Italy's state-run TV service RAI reported that the visit will be on May 20 and 21, but the information has not yet been verified.
According to Allen, one compelling reason for Pope Francis' visit to Al-Azhar is his stand to defend persecuted Christians. Human rights experts say the attacks targeting believers in the country has been a long-standing problem which is worsening with time, even though Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had vowed to protect minorities when he came to power in 2014.
Recently, hundreds of families fled from northern Sinai after a string of murders took place from Jan. 20 to Feb. 23 which targeted Coptic Christians and left seven dead. While no group has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks, Human Rights Watch notes that the fleeing Copts told of armed masked men aboard unmarked vehicles who killed the Christians.
Last month, ISIS also released a video where a suicide bomber claimed responsibility for the bombing of a church in Cairo in December. The attack on the annex to St. Mark's Cathedral took the lives of 29 churchgoers.
In light of the situation, Allen concluded that Pope Francis' meeting with the Sunni Muslim leadership should push for more concrete moves from the Egyptian government to ensure that Christians enjoy the same rights and safety that Muslims have. Otherwise, the persecuted Christians might think that the atrocities against them have gone unnoticed.