Roman Catholic Pope Francis delivered on Tuesday a televised speech addressing the Egyptian people ahead of his upcoming two-day visit to the country on Friday; the first visit by a Roman Catholic pope since his predecessor John Paul II visited Cairo in 2000.
Pope Francis started his speech with the traditional Islamic greeting As-Salamu Alaykum (Peace be upon you), saying he is truly happy to visit as a friend, a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim to the country that over two thousand years ago offered refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the tyranny of King Herod.
"With a heart full of joy and gratitude I will soon visit your beloved country, the cradle of civilisation, the gift of the Nile, the land of sun and hospitality, the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard," the pope said.
"I am also honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family, which you call 'Umm al dunia' (the mother of the world)."
The pope also offered his regards to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb, and Egypt's Coptic Catholic Patriarch, all of whom he is set to meet during his visit.
"I would like this visit to be a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East, a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world, in which Egypt holds so important a place."
Pope Francis said he wished his visit to Egypt would mark a fruitful contribution to interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerable and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.
"Our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land. Our world needs peace, love and mercy. It needs peacemakers, people who are free and who set others free, men and women of courage who can learn from the past in order to build the future, free of every form of prejudice. Our world needs people who can build bridges of peace, dialogue, fraternity, justice and humanity," he added.
"Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and old, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor... I embrace you warmly and I ask Almighty God to bless you and protect your country from every evil, please pray for me, Shukran, Tahya Misr (Thank you and long live Egypt)," the pope said in conclusion.
The Roman Catholic pontiff received an official invitation to visit Egypt from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi when they met at the Vatican in 2014.
The visit, which celebrates 70 years of diplomatic ties between Egypt and the Vatican, comes after two suicide bombings targeted two cathedrals in Egypt earlier this month, killing and injuring dozens of Christian worshippers.