On his first evening in Egypt Pope Francis prayed with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II at the site where dozens of Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed last December.

The two leaders placed flowers and lit candles in homage to the 29 who were murdered for their faith at St Peter and St Paul’s Church. The faithful chanted a song of martyrs, and some clashed cymbals under the darkened evening sky.

Inside the small church in Cairo, the leaders of several other Christian communities in Egypt, as well as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, sat before the congregation, which included family members of the victims.

A portion of one wall was splattered with blood, and pictures of those killed – many with bright smiles to the camera – were hung above. Some of the church’s stone columns were pockmarked from the debris or shrapnel sent flying from the explosion. Pope Francis touched the bloodstained wall and made the Sign of the Cross.

Earlier, Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis ended a long-standing disagreement between the two communions over the sacrament of Baptism.

The Coptic Orthodox Church had required new members joining from most non-Coptic churches, including the Catholic Church, to be baptised again. The Catholic Church recognises all baptisms performed with water and in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Coptic Orthodox are received as full members, but not baptised again. The two leaders signed a statement saying they would “seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism” in such circumstances.

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