Vatican confirms papal trip to Egypt under study

The Associated Press
Pope Francis shares a light moment with "Telefono Amico" support hotline president Dario Briccola during an audience at the Vatican Saturday, March 11, 2017. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

The Vatican is confirming a papal trip to Egypt is under consideration but that no dates or itinerary have been finalized.

The statement Saturday by spokesman Greg Burke came after Italy's state-run RAI reported Francis would visit Cairo's Al-Azhar, the leading center of learning of Sunni Islam, on May 20-21.

The Vatican and Al-Azhar recently restored relations that the Cairo institute severed in 2011 to protest comments by then-Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict in 2011 had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties.

Last May, Al-Azhar's grand imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, visited Francis.