Beliefnet
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Christian and Muslim leaders and more than a thousand Egyptians came together Thursday to mark the arrival 2,000 years ago of the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Egypt.

Prime Minister Atef Obeid and three other Cabinet ministers attended a pageant performed with choristers singing on barges at the spot where tradition says the Holy Family arrived at the Nile River in what is now the Cairo suburb of Maadi.

Christian Coptic tradition holds the family arrived in Egypt on June 1 in A.D. 0 and stayed three years and 11 months. The pageant is the first of a series of commemorative events that the government is staging for tourists and Egyptians who wish to retrace the family's journey.

The ceremony began with the choir singing a Christian Coptic hymn and a man reciting a verse from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, that says: '' O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary ...''

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, sat in the front row of the seats at the Church and Monastery of the Virgin Mary with Egypt' most senior Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi.

Scores of performers on a barge reenacted the arrival in a village of Joseph, carrying the infant Jesus, and Mary riding on a donkey. A massive screen on another barge showed a tree bowing down in homage.

Later on in the pageant, entitled ``Blessed be Egypt, my people,'' actors performed the scene where Christ is believed to have revived a dead man. Other scenes were enacted on barges bearing mock-ups of churches, mosques and Pharaonic temples.

The show took pains to emphasize religious harmony. The screen showed the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Amr Ibn al-As Mosque and the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.

Christians, who form about 10 percent of Egypt's 64 million people, live for the most part in peace with the Muslim majority. But there were bloody clashes between the two communities in one southern Egyptian village in January. Christians occasionally complain of being under-represented in top positions in the civil service and of restrictions over the building and repair of churches.

The government denies any discrimination against Copts and points to events such as Thursday's pageant as proof that Copts are respected.

The ceremony ended with a firework display and the screen's being illuminated with the crescent of Islam encompassing a cross.

Led by the choir, the audience sang a song that closed with the lines:

``Our people are forever one

A church in every place you see

Embraced by countless mosques.''

The pageant's music and words were written by two Egyptian Muslims, composer Mohammed Noah and writer Mohammed Salmawi, and then approved by Pope Shenouda.

``The fact that it was done by two Mohammeds says a lot in itself,'' the well-known Coptic cartoonist Ramsis Zakhari told The Associated Press afterward.

He said he was not at all bothered by the role of Islam in a pageant that commemorated events 600 years before the advent of the Muslim religion. The theme of religious tolerance was appropriate, he said.

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