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Pope’s timely visit to Egypt comforts grief-stricken Christians

CAIRO — Pope Francis wrapped up a brief but deeply symbolic visit to Egypt on Saturday with an open-air Mass for the country’s tiny Catholic community, defying security concerns to show his support for the Christians of this Muslim majority Arab nation who have increasingly become targeted by Islamic militants.

Military helicopters flew overhead and police fanned out in force as Francis zoomed around the soccer stadium in suburban Cairo where Mass was held, using an open-topped golf cart and waving to members of the congregation, evidence of his hallmark desire to be close to his flock at all costs.

The crowd cheered him wildly, waving Egyptian and Holy See flags and swaying to hymns sung by church choirs. The military-run stadium has a capacity of 25,000, but only about 15,000 people attended — a reflection that Catholics represent less than 1 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people. But the relatively modest number and the draconian security did not dampen their jubilant mood. Francis engaged the crowd with waves and smiles, and gave his blessings to the children hoisted up by their parents.

In his homily, Francis urged them to be good and merciful to their fellow Egyptians, saying “the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity!”

“Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!” he said.

It was a very pastoral message after Francis on his first day demanded that Muslim leaders renounce religious fanaticism that leads to violence.