A billboard with a picture of Pope Tawadros II welcoming Pope Francis, at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.
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Pope Francis is facing a religious and diplomatic balancing act as he heads to Egypt this weekend, hoping to comfort its Christian community after a spate of Islamic attacks while seeking to improve relations with Egypt's Muslim leaders.The visit, though, marks a diplomatic breakthrough for Rome after Al-Azhar severed relations with the Vatican in 2011 after Pope Benedict XVI demanded Egypt better protect its Christian minority following a New Year's Eve church bombing that killed more than 20 people.Francis has spent the better part of his four-year papacy seeking to mend the ties, and last year hosted Tayeb at the Vatican. For Tayeb, then, the pope's visit is a timely godsend, showing him as a promoter of Christian-Muslim dialogue who not only scored a visit by Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, but also Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.That said, even some of Francis' own Jesuit confreres caution that the pope is naive in trying to hold dialogue with Al-Azhar and an Islamic tradition that they say remains stuck in the Middle Ages.
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