Pope Francis greeted the people of Egypt saying “Assalam Alaikum" (the Islamic greeting meaning "peace be with you”) at the Al Azhar institution in Cairo on Friday.
The hall of people attending his speech responded with massive applause.
“Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” the pope told a peace conference at Egypt’s Al Azhar university, the revered, 1,000-year-old seat of learning in Sunni Islam that trains clerics and scholars from around the world.
Francis’s trip, aimed at improving ties between Muslims and Roman Catholics, comes three weeks after ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in two Egyptian churches.
The Pope is urged the leading imams to teach their students to reject violence in God’s name and preach peace, dialogue and reconciliation - not instigation to conflict.
Francis recalled that Egypt’s ancient civilization valued the quest for knowledge and open-minded education, and that a similar commitment is required today to combat what he called the “barbarity” of religious extremism.
Francis spoke to the grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, and other clerics on the first day of a two-day visit to Cairo.
He says religious leaders were obliged to “expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous cariacatures of God.”
This visit is the first papal trip to Egypt since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000. The visit aims to encourage interchange with Muslim leaders and to show solidarity with Christians across the Middle East at a time of strife.
ISIS succeeded in targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christians, in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria as Christian Egyptians were marking Easter.