A mass took place in the Vatican on Wednesday, to mark the 800th anniversary of St Francis’ visit to Egypt back in 1219, Ansa reported on Wednesday.
Ahead of the mass, Egypt’s Tourism Minister, Yehya Rashed and a high-level delegation flew to the Vatican to participate in the celebration, where Pope Francis was due to bless a Coptic icon of the Flight of the Holy Family in Egypt, for the first time.
The visit is part of the ministry’s efforts to incorporate the trip from Bethlehem through Egypt by the Holy Family (Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus) in the global religious tourism map.
The pilgrimage route in Egypt includes 25 sites, from Sinai in the east to Assiut in the south.
The ministry said eight locations have been developed to be the key stops of the tour. These include the tree of the Virgin Mary in Cairo’s Matariya suburb, the churches of Coptic Cairo, and the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Wadi El Natrun in the desert northwest of Cairo.
St Francis accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta and tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, according to contemporary accounts.
During his stay in Egypt, Francis remained with al-Kamil and his Sufi teacher Fakhr ad-din al-Farisi for about three weeks, discussing prayer and the mystical life, after an initial attempt to convert each other.
The celebrations will last two years and will focus on the meeting in Egypt’s northern port city of Damietta between St Francis and al- Kamil
“The (papal) blessing of the icon is the crowning glory of prodigious efforts made by the President (Abdel Fattah al-Sisi) and the ministry to nurture tourism and to put the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt back on the pilgrim map,” Rashed said in a statement.
Rashed’s visit to the Vatican comes amid a government drive to boost the terrorism-hit tourism industry in Egypt, which will become a destination for pilgrimages starting in 2018.