A glorious day of national unity. It was experienced yesterday in Egypt on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Administrative Capital, of the largest mosque in the Country and of the largest Basilica in the entire Middle East dedicated to the Nativity of Christ. For the first time in the history of this ancient land two places of worship, Christian and Muslim, are inaugurated on the same day. Both ceremonies were attended by Palestinian President Abu Mazen, by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, and by the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Tawadros II.
The message of Pope Francis. The Mosque and the Coptic Cathedral were inaugurated during a ceremony held in the Congress Centre of the new Administrative Capital. Egyptian president al-Sisi asked those present to gather for a moment of silence in memory of the policeman killed two days ago while trying to defuse a bomb outside a church in the eastern outskirts of Cairo. Thus, even this year, security measures were strengthened during the Coptic Church’s Christmas celebrations (held last evening). Video-messages of Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, and of Greek-Melchite Patriarch Youssef Absi were screened during the opening ceremony. Also Pope Francis conveyed his Christmas greetings: “The prince of peace gives the gift of peace and prosperity to Egypt, the Middle East and all the world”, Francis said, adding a “special” greeting “to my very dear brother His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and to the dear Coptic Orthodox Church.” “Dear brothers and sisters, you have some martyrs who give strength to your faith. Thank you for your example.”
At the Mosque of Al-Fattah Al-Alim. After the opening ceremony President al-Sisi, accompanied by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and by the Coptic Pope, visited the new Mosque. “This is a day of joy as we see our beloved country write a new page in the history of civilization,” Pope Tawadros II said: ” “Today we celebrate an unprecedented occasion where the minarets of Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque are embracing those of the Nativity of the Christ Cathedral, opening a new horizon for our beloved country on this happy occasion.” “We pray for our Country’s unity”, Tawadros said. “As an Egyptian citizen, I am happy to stand in the mosque to celebrate its opening with my Muslim brothers.”
The Coptic Cathedral and the mosque were built in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital, to become fully operative in 2022. It is located 45 Km east of Cairo, between the Nile River and the Suez Canal. This monumental project was strongly supported by President al-Sisi also to ease the congestion of the overpopulated capital Cairo, with approximately 19 million residents. The newly built Cathedral of Nativity is a majestic building that can hold up to 8200 faithful. The Egyptian presidency has already donated 100 thousand Egyptian pounds to the project. The mosque can accommodate up to 17 thousand people.
At Christ’s Nativity church. President al-Sisi made his way through the crowd awaiting him inside the Basilica. He took the floor by welcoming the guests who arrived from Arab and other world Countries. His presence at the inauguration of the largest Christian cathedral in the Middle East has a highly symbolical value at a time of rising attacks by Islamist militants against Christians in the Country. “This is a very important moment in our history”, al-Sisi pointed out. “This occasion represents a tree of love which we have planted together, but this tree still needs attention and care so that its fruit reaches from Egypt to the whole world.” His words were echoed by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar (Sunni Islam’s largest university) who highlighted the historic bearing of this event: “A sign of fraternity and love.”
Coptic-Orthodox Christmas. After President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi left the Cathedral, Coptic-Orthodox Pope Tawadros II celebrated the Holy Christmas Mass. “We pray for peace in the whole world, for our Country, Egypt”, said the Coptic Pope in a video-message addressed to the Christian community worldwide. “Let us pray that God may give joy to all people, as the Holy Christmas chant recites, Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”