Pope Tawadros II speaking to the Italian pilgrimage delgation in the Coptic Orthodox Church headquarters in Abbasiya, Cairo, 19 June (Photo: Ahram)
The first delegation of Italian tourists arriving in Egypt to retrace the journey of the holy family were received in Egypt on Tuesday by Pope Tawadros II, as a part of the international Christian pilgrimage to the country.
"The lands of Egypt were blessed by the journey of the holy family and the presence of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt since the first century," the Pope said, stressing the significance of the country’s role in the history of humanity and describing the Egyptian Orthodox Church as an extension of Pharoanic civilization.
According to the Bible, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape King Herod’s persecution.
The pilgrimage route in Egypt includes 25 sites, from Sinai in the east to Upper Egypt's Assiut in the south.
Egypt's Ministry of Tourism says eight locations have been developed as key stops in the pilgrimage tour, including 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.
The Pope wished the Italian delegation of pilgrims a happy and comfortable stay in Egypt, the land of peace and love, hoping they obtain blessings from its sacred sites.
The visit of the Italian delegation to retrace the journey of the holy family in Egypt is set to continue until 21 June.
Last October, Vatican Pope Francis blessed an icon depicting the Holy Family in Egypt, to revive pilgrimage to the country from the international Christian community.
The accreditation of the pilgrimage route in Egypt is expected to aid efforts to revive Egyptian tourism, a main pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, which has been hard hit by years of political turmoil since the 2011 revolution.
Pope Francis visited Egypt in April 2017, the first Roman Catholic pontiff to do so since Pope John Paul II in 2000.