Pope Francis and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shake hands during a private audience at the Vatican November 24, 2014. (Photo; Reuters)
Pope Francis urged Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Monday to ensure peace during his country's political transition and called on Egypt to embrace its diplomatic role in the troubled Middle East.
During what the Vatican described as "cordial" talks -- the first between an Egyptian leader and the pope at the tiny city state in eight years -- the pontiff stressed "the closeness and solidarity of the Church to all the people of Egypt during this period of political transition".
The Vatican statement expressed hope that Egypt's constitutional safeguards on human rights and religious freedom "may be strengthened".
The pope also told Sisi he hoped "the path to inter-religious dialogue may continue to be pursued," it said.
The pair also discussed Egypt's role in the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.
"It was reiterated that dialogue and negotiation are the only options to put an end to the conflicts and to the violence that endanger defenseless populations and cause the loss of human lives," the Vatican said.
Sisi's visit was celebrated by hundreds of Egyptian supporters in Rome's city centre, where they danced draped in the national flag to music at a street party, holding up banners with the president's face.
Egyptian officials said Sisi's four-day tour, which will also take in France, is aimed at securing European investment in the Egyptian economy, which has been battered by political turmoil since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.
*The story was edited by Ahram Online.