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A 1st: Coptic Patriarch will join Pope Francis and speak at May 10 general audience


Osservatore Romano Handout | AFP

I.Media - published on 04/20/23

In addition to speaking with the Pope, Tawadros II will also celebrate Divine Liturgy at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, a first for a non-Catholic.

The Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria Tawadros II will visit Rome from May 9 to 14, 2023, I.MEDIA has learned. Ten years after his meeting with Pope Francis and 50 years after the first meeting between a pope and a Coptic Orthodox patriarch, Tawadros II will be alongside the Argentine Pontiff during the general audience on Wednesday May 10 in Saint Peter’s Square.

Then, on Sunday, May 14, the leader of more than 10 million faithful in Egypt will celebrate Divine Liturgy (Mass) in the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran for the Coptic faithful.

For Dominican priest Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle, a member of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, “it will be the first time that a non-Catholic will celebrate in the Pope’s cathedral.”

He tells us about the program and the reasons for this visit by the Patriarch to Rome.

Why is Patriarch Tawadros II coming to Rome to meet the Pope?

Fr. Destivelle: Precisely on May 10, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first meeting between a pope and a Coptic Orthodox patriarch, 15 centuries after the separation of Chalcedon. Relations between the two Churches had begun to warm with the Second Vatican Council, where Coptic observers were present. In 1968, Patriarch Cyril VI invited Paul VI to go to Cairo for the inauguration of the new Coptic cathedral. Paul VI could not go, but on that occasion he returned relics of Saint Mark which had been taken from the Copts in the 9th century by Venetian merchants. This gesture marked a new era in the relationship between the two Churches.

In 1973, when we were celebrating the 1,600th anniversary of the death of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Paul VI invited the young Patriarch Shenouda to Rome. They signed a Christological agreement which put an end to the controversy born around the Council of Chalcedon and which had led to a rupture between Rome and many Eastern Churches, including the Copts. This joint declaration of 1973 underlined that the faithful indeed shared the same faith in Christ, true God and true man. This historic agreement then served as a model for other Churches – Syriac, Armenian, Syro-Malankara, etc.

It will also be 10 years since Tawadros II came to the Vatican…

Fr. Destivelle: We will therefore be celebrating a double anniversary. Tawadros II, elected in 2012, indeed chose for his first trip outside Egypt to come and meet Pope Francis who had just been elected. They celebrated the 40th anniversary of the famous meeting between Paul VI and Shenouda III and declared that May 10 would be “Coptic-Catholic Friendship Day” which has since been celebrated every year with an exchange of messages.

Admittedly, there had been no joint declaration. But in 2017, the Pope went to Cairo to sign with Tawadros II a common document with a pastoral tone. One of the challenges was to agree on the question of the recognition of baptisms, particularly in the case of mixed marriages. The declaration assured that the two Churches would do everything not to come to the point of re-baptizing the faithful.

How will Tawadros II’s next visit to the Vatican unfold?

Fr. Destivelle: May 10 falls on a Wednesday, the day of Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The patriarch will therefore be present at his side during his catechesis and will speak. It will be a first.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI brought in the Armenian Catholicos Karekin II during an audience, but the latter did not speak. This time, Tawadros II will speak.

The next day, the Patriarch will be received by the Pope in a private audience with his delegation and there will be an exchange of speeches. The theme of the ecumenism of blood may come to the fore – we know that it’s dear to Pope Francis. The Coptic Church is often called the “Church of the Martyrs.” The memory of the Coptic martyrs assassinated by the Islamic State organization in 2015 in Libya may be evoked. Then the two Church leaders will spend a period of prayer in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater chapel.

Sunday May 14 will also be a historic day since the Patriarch will celebrate a mass at the Basilica of Saint John of Lateran for the Coptic faithful. It will be the first time a non-Catholic has celebrated in the pope’s cathedral. I think the basilica will be full, because there’s a very large and dynamic Coptic diaspora in the Rome region and in Italy, perhaps 100,000 faithful.

In Egypt too, are the relations between the Coptic Catholic and Orthodox faithful positive?

Fr. Destivelle: Tawadros has done much for Christian relations in Egypt since the beginning of his patriarchy. His Church represents around 10% of the Egyptian population, or nearly 10 million faithful. It is the largest in the Middle East numerically speaking.

But that doesn’t stop him from working for dialogue between Christians. Tawadros, for example, instituted an Ecumenical Council of Churches with a rotating presidency. Likewise, he was present at the enthronement of Catholic Patriarch Sidrak in 2013, which had never been done before. This shows his openness towards the Catholic Copts who number only a few hundred thousand.

Coptic ChristiansEgyptPope Francis
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