Pope Francis urged religious leaders to “unmask the violence” masquerading as holy and condemn religiously inspired hatred as an idolatrous caricature of God, during his visit to Egypt last Friday.

“No act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” the Pope told Muslim and Christian leaders at a peace conference attended by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

The Pope began his two-day visit to Cairo by speaking at a gathering organised by Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, regarded as Sunni Islam’s highest institute of learning.

He told reporters on the papal flight from Rome that the trip was significant because he was invited by the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria.

Having invitations from these four leaders showed it was “a trip of unity and fraternity” that would be “quite, quite intense”, he said.

Greeted with a standing ovation and a few scattered shouts of “viva il papa” (“long live the Pope”), Francis later addressed conference participants by saying “Peace be with you” in Arabic. He gave a 23-minute talk highlighting Egypt’s “glorious history” as a land of civilisation, wisdom and faith in God. Small olive branches symbolising peace were among the greenery adorning the podium.

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