CAIRO – More than 2,000 years ago, Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of King Herod. Starting this year, Pope Francis is encouraging Catholics to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Family in a pilgrimage. He confirmed that Egypt will now be included as an official Roman Catholic pilgrimage site.
Pope Francis visited Egypt in April 2017, just weeks after the bombing of Coptic churches. After his visit, an Egyptian delegation visited the Vatican during the month of October. The designation of Egypt as a pilgrimage site was endorsed by Pope Francis in October during his general audience.
“I affectionately remember my apostolic trip to your good land, and your generous people; the land where Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the Child Jesus and many prophets lived; a land blessed throughout the centuries by the precious blood of the martyrs and the righteous; a land of coexistence and hospitality; a land of encounter, history and civilization,” Pope Francis said during the audience. “May the Lord bless you all and protect your country, the Middle East and the entire world from every evil, every terrorism and from the evil one!”
Before he arrived in Egypt, Pope Francis said, “I am truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave more than 2,000 years ago refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod.”
Egyptian Tourism Minister Yahya Rashed predicted that 20% of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians will visit Egypt. Currently, Christian pilgrimages account for 3% of Egyptian tourism.
After the 2011 revolution, Egypt experienced a 42% drop in the total number of tourists who visited Egypt in 2016. In the past six years, tourism revenue has declined by almost 70%. In anticipation of pilgrims, Egypt is working to restore several holy sites.
By May, eight historical sites to be included in the 25 site pilgrimage route will be ready to receive pilgrims. The sites include the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, the three monasteries of Wadi El Natrun, the Church of the Holy Virgin, the Monastery of Al-Muharraq at Mount Qosqam, and the Saint Mary Monastery in Mount Drenka.