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Arts & Culture

Pope Holds Mass In Cairo

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Pope Francis wound up his two-day visit to Egypt today. He celebrated mass for the country's small Catholic community. In a sign of heightened security concerns, the religious service was held in a military stadium. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

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SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: In his homily, the pope stuck to the basic theme of his visit - his strong belief that only Christian-Muslim dialogue can combat extremism and violence. All our religiosity, he said, means nothing unless it's inspired by deep faith and charity.

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POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: True faith, the pope said, makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome but a brother or sister to be loved and helped. And it leads us to protect the rights of others with the same zeal and enthusiasm as we defend our own. The only fanaticism believers can have, the pope added, is that of charity. The trip's main event was the visit to Al-Azhar University, an important center of learning for Sunni Islam. Francis warmly embraced the grand imam and made an urgent appeal for leaders of all faiths to reject violence and denounce intolerance.

The trip came three weeks after Islamic militants carried out suicide bombings in Coptic churches that killed more than 40 people, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and increase police powers. In his meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the pope backed his crackdown against terrorism, but in a clear reference to activists' many denunciations of repressive government tactics, Francis made some critical remarks, demanding unconditional respect for inalienable human rights, such as equality among all citizens, religious freedom and freedom of expression, without any distinction. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELODIUM'S "CHOANAL IMPERFORATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.