CWN - Pope Francis said that Christians and Muslims together must promote “civility of encounter” as the only viable alternative to “the incivility of conflict,” in a speech to an inter-religious peace conference hosted by Al Azhar University in Cairo.

Earlier in the day, the Pope had told Egypt’s political leaders that their country “has a unique role to play in the Middle East” and in the quest for a stable peace there. And later, addressing Coptic Christians, the Holy Father said that “there is no time to lose” in the quest for Christian unity, and assured embattled Egyptian Christians that “your sufferings are our sufferings.”

The Pope was greeted to Al Azhar University by the institution’s leader, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, who opened the peace conference by asking for a minute of silent prayer for the victims of terrorism. The Islamic cleric went on to denounce violence, insisting that Islam is a religion of peace.

Pope Francis opened and closed his own address—which was frequently interrupted by applause—with the traditional Arabic greeting: “As salaamu alaykum“ (Peace be with you). He began his remarks by recalling the history of Egypt as an ancient cultural center, and said that the program of dialogue between the Vatican and Al Azhar University continues the heritage of respectful interaction between faiths that has been a characteristic of Egypt’s history.

That attitude of respect is a hallmark of faith, the Pope insisted. Violence, he said, “is the negation of every authentic religious expression.” He said that religious leaders should “unmask evil,” and at the same time address the causes of violence, by working to end poverty, eliminate the arms trade, and counteract the divisive influences of populism. “May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded his address at Al Azhar by saying: "As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute. We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam."

Later, in his meeting with Coptic Christians, the Pope recalled the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Coptic Pope Shenouda III in May 1973, which ended centuries of separation. He said that all Christians should speak together “the common language of charity,” and not “take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations.”

Noting that the Christian world was united this year in the celebration of Easter on the same date, the Pope added that Christians are also drawn together by the shared witness of suffering for the faith and the “ecumenism of blood.”

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Teachings of Christ

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44 ESV)

Theophany

When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, * worship of the Trinity was revealed, * for the Father's voice bore witness to You, calling You His “beloved Son”, * and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of these words. * O Christ God, * Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory to You! (Troparion, Tone 1)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

You have appeared to the whole world today, * and Your light, O Lord, is signed upon us, * who with knowledge sing praise to You: * "You have come, and You have appeared, O Unapproachable Light." (Kontakion, Tone 4)

Random Proverb

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11:2 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

“It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine his conscience, to put his mind to the test and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourselves in the present week. This is true fasting.”

Saint John Chrysostom