Pope Francis has expressed condolences to Egypt and the Coptic Orthodox Church following a deadly attack on Egyptian Christians on Friday, according to an Egyptian foreign ministry statement.
The statement on Saturday said that Francis’ office had called Egypt’s ambassador to the Holy See, Hatem Seif El-Nasr, the previous day to communicate the pope’s message.
Twenty-nine Christians were killed and at least 22 injured when armed assailants fired at buses transporting the group of Christians to St Samuel’s Monastery in Minya on Friday morning.
In his message to El-Nasr, the head of the Roman Catholic Church said he was offering prayers for the victims and their families and prayers "to give Egypt strength and success in confronting black terrorism, to end the bloodshed, and to eliminate these extremist ideas," according to the statement.
Arab and Western countries have denounced the attack, which Egypt’s interior ministry said was carried out by unknown assailants driving four-by-four trucks who fired at random at a bus carrying the Copts to the monastery.
On Saturday Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the latest in a series of deadly assaults on Egypt’s Christians, including deadly bombings of churches in Tanta and Alexandria in April that were also claimed by the group.
Pope Francis visited Cairo last month, the first such papal trip to the country since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000.
Francis met with Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as President El-Sisi, and addressed a conference on peace for religious leaders being held at Al-Azhar.
During his meeting with El-Sisi, Pope Francis expressed his sympathy with the loss of lives of Egyptian Copts and said he was reassured by the clear language of the Egyptian president on the state’s commitment to protect all its citizens, including Copts, and to secure their freedom of faith and freedom of worship, “despite some issues that President El-Sisi did say still require sensitive treatment.”
During his statement before the closing session of the international conference on peace at the headquarters of Al-Azhar, Pope Francis underlined the need to respect the religious rights and freedoms of the other and to pursue the call of tolerance in full awareness that no act of violence can be committed in the name of God.