Pope tells Egypt ahead of visit he comes as peace messenger

People are seen through the stain glass, of the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, April 24, 2017. Pope Francis is scheduled to make a two-day pilgrimage to Egypt, a predominantly Muslim Arab nation where on April 9, on the Christian holy day of Palm Sunday, twin suicide bombings of Coptic churches killed 44 people. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has told the Egyptian people he is coming to Cairo this week as a friend and a “messenger of peace.”

In a videotaped message in Italian released by the Vatican on Tuesday, Francis says he hopes the pilgrimage will be “an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East.”

Twin bombings of Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday killed 44 people.

Francis departs for Cairo on Friday and returns on Saturday.

He wished the “dear people of Egypt” peace and said he was coming “with a joyful and grateful heart.”

Francis expressed hope that his trip to the majority Muslim nation might also “offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world, and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.”

Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have long reported suffering discrimination as well as outright attacks.

Among those inviting the pope were the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the leading center of learning of Sunni Islam, which previously had frozen relations with the Vatican.

Francis in his message said the world “torn by blind violence” needs “courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices,” as well as “builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice and humanity.”

Francis has strived to improve Vatican dialogue with the Islamic world after tensions developed during the pontificate of predecessor Benedict XVI.