(from Cairo) Egyptian tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, first woman to hold this role met with a delegation of the Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines – UNITALSI –headed by Preziosa Terrinoni and Father Gianni Toni, respectively President and ecclesial assistant of the Rome- Lazio Office. The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate and revive pilgrimages following the route of the Holy Family in the land which according to tradition hosted Jesus, Joseph and Mary for three years during the flight from Herod. UNITALSI will cooperate in the organization of two pilgrimages with the diocese of Viterbo and with the Italian Charity Association SIB, chaired by Eugenio Benedetti Gallo. During the meeting Tourism Minister and the UNITALSI delegation reiterated their commitment in the promotion of the pilgrimages scheduled to start already next summer, whose itinerary details are yet to be defined. On the sidelines of the meeting Minister Al-Mashat was interviewed by journalists members of the Unitalsi delegation, due to return to Italy today.
Minister Al-Mashat, is the pilgrimage on the path of the Holy Family a fruit of Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt last year? Why has the Government decided to support the initiative with such determination?
The Holy Family Route helps us spread messages of tolerance,
coexistence and interreligious dialogue. The project came into being after Pope Francis’ visit in April 2017, with the endorsement of President Al Sisi. The initiative is meant to highlight the fact that Egypt is a Country where all faiths are present. We are ready to welcome the pilgrims arriving from world Countries, especially those from Italy. Italy is and will remain a landmark Country for Egypt.
However, the “Regeni case” could have a considerable impact on Italian people’s decision to travel to Egypt …
We hope this crisis will be overcome.
Egypt and Italy have an age-old relationship, as testified by the archaeological findings dating back to the times of the Romans brought to light in our Country. Our relations are rooted also in other areas such as economy and culture. Egyptians have feelings of deep friendship with the Italian people.
If we were to identify the people that most resemble the Egyptians it would be the Italian people. That’s why we are considering restoring the ancient glory of arrivals from Italy. In this respect the figures confirm this trend.
For the Egyptian Tourism Agency, Italian tourists in 2017 increased by 94% compared to the previous year. These are very positive signs that bode well for the future also in other sectors such as the economy, on the wake of the discovery by ENI gas company of a large offshore gas field in Egypt.
Which strategies does the Government intend to adopt to ensure the pilgrims’ security? There is a strong fear of attacks… Ensuring the safe stay of pilgrims and tourists in Egypt is a priority of our Government. The Holy Family route in Egypt bears a special value to us and thus it is a prime concern.
For this reason, the Ministry of Tourism that I chair will work in close cooperation with all authorities in charge of security to fulfil this commitment.
One of the possible itineraries of the Holy Family route envisages a passage on the Sinai peninsula where is located the monastery of Saint Catherine. As known this area is marked by strong tensions also owing to the presence of Jihadi terrorist cells. In this case, do you plan to adopt special measures? We are cooperating with the Province of South Sinai that comprises St. Catherine to to ensure the most effective security measures. These will involve also the archaeological sites in the area. St. Catherine’s monastery in particular is not on the Holy Family’s itinerary but it is located along the Exodus route. We hope that pilgrims may have the opportunity of visiting also this famous monastery.
UNITALSI intends to organize pilgrimages with sick and disabled persons along the Holy Family Route. Are you prepared to welcome also pilgrims with special needs? We are fully prepared to welcome all pilgrims and meet their needs. We addressed the subject with UNITALSI. 2018 has been declared the Year of the Disabled in Egypt, thus we are even more determined to promote this synergy and put to value every aspect to ensure the best possible outcome of the pilgrimages.
After your recent appointment as Tourism Minister the women members of the Government have risen to six. What does this mean for Egypt? The presence of women in public roles is nothing new for Egypt. This can be seen in the frescos of ancient Egyptians brought to light in Assuan and in Luxor. Today the women in the government hold positions of responsibility in the area of tourism, migration, planning, solidarity and cooperation, culture and investments. It is no coincidence that president al-Sisi declared the year 2017 the Year of Women.
You are a protagonist of the cultural and political life of your Country. As a woman, what does the figure of Mary of Nazareth, on which is centred the Holy Family’s journey, inspire you? For the Egyptian population, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the figure of the Virgin Mary is the object of great veneration. A entire Surah in the Koran is dedicated to the Mother of Jesus. Her story, marked by moments of great difficulty and suffering, is known to Egyptians. The role of the Virgin is important and it is stands as
An example in the creation of the family,
that is very dear to the Egyptian people. God has given women an important role and for us the Holy Virgin stands as an example of unity, strength and courage.”