About 3,000 young Catholics from across Egypt will put aside security fears and travel to the centre of Cairo to welcome Pope Francis.
Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, is sponsoring the scheme for 250 young people from each diocese to go to the Egyptian capital when the Pontiff visits on 28-29th April.
Organisers of the initiative involving the young people taking part in “the pilgrimage” say they are undeterred by the string of attacks against Christians and others, notably the Palm Sunday bomb blasts on 9th April at St Mark’s Cathedral, Alexandria, and another church in Tanta city, in which at least 45 people – mostly churchgoers – were killed.
Details of the schedule for the youth pilgrimage to Cairo have yet to be confirmed but it is understood that the young people will have some “participation” in the Papal visit.
Father Hani Kiroulos, vice president of the committee overseeing the youth pilgrimage, said: “Many young people have the desire to participate in the huge event.”
Their pilgrimage starts with Mass in cathedrals in various provinces on Tuesday (25th April) before the trip to Cairo where they will meet up with 1,000 local Catholic youth.
Their first full day in Cairo includes a visit to the Virgin Mary shrine with Confession afterwards.
The following day involves voluntary work at shelters and hospitals, ending with another Mass.
The Pope arrives the next day – 28th April – when the youngsters will be involved in a “reception of the Pope and participation in [his] visit”.
Explaining how five days were needed for the youth pilgrimage, Father Kiroulos said: “We want to give them the chance of a good preparation.”
Aid to the Church in Need is helping fund travel costs for each of the youngsters taking part in the pilgrimage as well as meals and accommodation.
Each young pilgrim is making a contribution to the cost of the programme.
Aid to the Church in Need is inviting people to pray for the success of the Papal visit and for the Catholic youth going to see him.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, ACN (UK), said: “We are pleased to support Egyptian Christians welcoming Pope Francis to their capital this April.
“We pray for our Catholic family: the 3,000 children and our Holy Father’s safety as well as all other Christians gathering with their Muslim neighbours as an expression of tolerance after recent attacks by extremists.”
He added: “Our prayers go out to them as they embark on their peaceful pilgrimage. We wish them all a safe and spiritual enriching journey.”
ACN’s Executive President, Johannes Heereman, spoke of the charity’s material help and prayers for the trip’s success: “Together with our financial support we will launch a prayer action in the social media to accompany this important visit of the Holy Father.”
He said: “As a Pontifical Foundation seeking to sustain our brothers and sisters who are persecuted or in need because of their faith, it is of great importance that we offer our concrete help for the visit of the Holy Father to Egypt.”
Over the last two years, ACN has supported the suffering Church in Egypt with nearly 150 projects including help for seminarians, construction of chapels and homes for clergy and Sisters, Mass stipends and transport for clergy in far-flung parishes.