Pope Francis of the Vatican blessing the icon depicting the flight of the Holy family in Egypt (Photo: Ahram Arabic News website)
Pope Francis prayed for Egypt and the Middle East during his general audience speech on Wednesday in Saint Peter's Square, which was attended by a delegation from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, the Vatican Radio reported.
"May the Lord protect Egypt, the Middle East and the world from terrorism," the pope said during his speech.
The Egyptian delegation to the Vatican, led by tourism minister Yehia Rashid, hopes to promote a tourist trail in Egypt that follows the journey of the Holy Family of Jesus in the country.
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.
Pope Francis pointed out that a number of biblical prophets had lived in Egypt.
"Egypt is a land that has been blessed with the precious blood of martyrs spilled throughout the centuries," he said.
Describing Egypt as the land of cohabitation and hospitality, Pope Francis spoke of his visit to the country in April, saying he had fond memories about the trip.
Pope Francis also presented Minister Rashid with an icon depicting the Holy Family in Egypt which he had blessed, a move described by Rashid as “the crowning glory” of the Egyptian government’s efforts to revive international Christian pilgrimage to Egypt.
According to a statement by the tourism ministry on Wednesday, the blessing comes as an important step in including the Egyptian routes in Roman Catholic pilgrimage programmes next year.
The pilgrimage route in Egypt includes 25 sites, from Sinai in the east to Assiut in the south.
The ministry said that 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
According to biblical tradition, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape King Herod’s persecution.