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Pope Francis Arrives in Egypt for Historic Visit

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L'Osservatore Romano
/
Via The Associated Press
Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane at Rome's Fiumicino international airport Friday on his way to Cairo.

CAIRO - Pope Francis has arrived in Egypt for a historic, two-day visit to show a united Christian-Muslim front against religious militancy.

The Catholic pontiff will hold a series of deeply symbolic meetings with Egypt's religious and political leaders and participate in an international peace conference organized by Al-Azhar, the world's primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning.

He will also show solidarity and bring a message of peace to a country that has for years endured an increasingly emboldened insurgency led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.

The pope's Friday-Saturday visit will also lift the spirits of Egypt's large Christian community after three suicide bombings since December hit their churches, killing at least 75 people. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In Zamalek, an upscale neighborhood on a Nile River island where Pope Francis will overnight in Cairo, streets that will be used by the pontiff's motorcade have been emptied of parked cars.

Some nearby side streets have been blocked for Francis' two-day visit that starts Friday afternoon. Security has also been visibly tightened in the neighborhood, with uniformed and plainclothes police deployed along routes expected to be used by Francis and his entourage.

The pope's visit, however, is unlikely to cause much disruption to the city of some 18 million people as it falls on the Muslim, Friday-Saturday weekend when the usually congested traffic is significantly lighter.

Banners in the Zamalek neighborhood welcomed Francis, with one from a private company saying "1,000,000 workers of Sharm el Sheikh welcome the pontiff.''