Pope Francis on Wednesday presented Egyptian Tourism Minister Yehia Rashid with an icon depicting the Holy Family in Egypt he had blessed, a move described by Rashid as “the crowning glory” of Egyptian government efforts to revive international Christian pilgrimage to Egypt.
According to a statement issued by the ministry of tourism, the blessing comes as an important step in the process of including the Egyptian routes in Roman Catholic pilgrimage programmes next year.
The Egyptian minister flew to Rome long with a high-level delegation of tourism and business officials on Tuesday for a visit aimed at promoting religious tourism to Egypt along the route the Holy Family is said to have travelled.
The icon, depicting the Holy Family’s journey, was presented to the minister during the pope's weekly general audience to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, the tourism ministry’s statement read.
The visit is part of the ministry's efforts to incorporate the trip from Bethlehem through Egypt by the Holy Family (Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus) in the global religious tourism map.
The pilgrimage route in Egypt includes 25 sites, from Sinai in the east to Assiut in the south.
The ministry said eight locations have been developed to be the key stops of the tour. These include the tree of the Virgin Mary in Cairo's Matariya suburb, the churches of Coptic Cairo, and the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Wadi El Natrun in the desert northwest of Cairo.
Egyptian tourism, a main pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, has been hit hard by years of political turmoil since the 2011 revolution.
Pope Francis visited Egypt in April, the first Roman Catholic pontiff to do so since Pope John Paul II in 2000.
In his speeches, Pope Francis made several reference to the Holy Family’s visit to Egypt.
According to Biblical tradition, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape King Herod’s persecution.