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CNN Today

Pope Begins Historic Pilgrimage Through Egypt

Aired February 24, 2000 - 1:08 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Pope John Paul II has begun a pilgrimage through Egypt. It is the first visit ever by a pope to that country.

CNN's Cairo bureau chief, Ben Wedeman, joins us now live with more on that -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Lou, ostensibly, actually, his visit is a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. He's be having a -- conducting prayers there at the monastery of St. Catherine.

But, really, the significance of his visit, of course, is his attempt at fostering interfaith dialogue. He, this evening in Cairo, has met with the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the indigenous church of Egypt, and he's also meeting with the sheik of Al-Azhar, which is the most prestigious center of learning in the Muslim world.

There's a feeling here in Egypt that there is a divide between East and West in terms of Christianity and Islam, but also in terms of divides between the church of Rome and the Coptic Church, which is the church that has the most members in the Muslim, in the Arab world -- approximately six million people here in Egypt. Therefore, the pope is coming here not only to conduct this personal spiritual pilgrimage, as the Vatican is calling it, but he's also coming here to try to create bridges between Muslims and Christians, which for many centuries have been very wide.

The Vatican has been conducting what it calls an interfaith dialogue with Muslim institutions here in Egypt, and the hope is, of course, that this many-century-old gap between Christianity and Islam will somehow be narrowed.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting live from Cairo.

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