2 May 2010
Two Finnish prelates, the Orthodox Church of Finland’s Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland, and Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland’s Dr Jukka Paarma, Archbishop of Turku and Finland, have been on a recent visit to Egypt. The visit of the archbishops, according to Finland’s ambassador to Cairo Roberto Tanzi-Albi, has been as both a Pilgrimage and an ecumenical visit, and has achieved the aim of representing Finland in interfaith dialogue. Mr Tanzi-Albi explained that the Finnish Evangelical and Orthodox archbishops go together on many joint visits. “They visited Rome several times for instance, and have now visited Moscow and Istanbul before coming to Egypt,” he said.
Archbishop Leo told Watani that the great Archbishop in Finland asked him if he could help by going to Egypt to visit Sinai and St Catherine’s, and to take part in interfaith dialogue. “I accepted to help him, and that’s why we’re here,” he said. “In Cairo, we met the Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria, as well as the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, and the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyib. The discussions were very kind. We in Finland have no problems with members of different religions, but we discussed the problems in various parts of the world. We hope that the Christian World would speak more with the Islamic World, because the world needs more such connections.”
The discussions, Archbishop Leo said, included the Ecumenical situation in Finland and in many countries in the world, as well as the Jewish-Muslim-Christian forum to be held later this year in Finland. “Our president is very helpful to us and supports our efforts,” he stressed.
“Before we come here,” Archbishop Leo said, “We heard about the attack against the Copts in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. Such violence cannot be accepted.”
For his part, Archbishop Paarma recalled with delight the pilgrimage to Sinai Mountain, St Catherine’s Monastery and the Mountain of Moses. “We saw the treasures of the monastery, especially the old icons,” he said.
“In Cairo,” he said, “We went to Moqattam where we were received by the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), a NGO supported by the Finnish Local Co-operation Fund. We also visited the Cave churches at the Monastery of St Simeon the Tanner, then al-Azhar Park, and had lunch with the Apostolic Nunciature of Holy See in Cairo.”
In their meeting with Egypt’s religious leaders, Archbishop Paarma said, they brought up the topics of Christianity in Egypt, the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the Middle East, and interfaith dialogue on the global and local levels. Such issues are perhaps more important in Egypt than in our own country; Finland is a 90 per cent Christian country, but we have had a small Islamic group for some 150 years now. They were Tatars who had come from Russia as merchants. Finland was part of Russia at that time.
The Tatar group was small, but since the 1970s we have had an influx of immigrants, refugees, students, and people who come seeking work. Now there are many Muslims from the Middle East, Africa, Somalia, the Balkans, and also from Asia, especially India.
Watani asked Archbishop Paarma whether Finland feared any problems with immigrants, as was the case with other European countries who were victims of terrorist acts on the part of immigrants?
“The reason to open our country to all people including those of different religion is Christian love. In Finland everyone has the right to have his own religion, and has the right to pray and worship without restrictions. Muslims build mosques and live as they wish. We believe that people who tend to be violent are not really in their faith. All Christians and Muslims must love each other.
“In our church, we have a special prayer for people who suffer because of their faith.”
So will there be future cooperation between the Finnish churches and Muslim leaders in Egypt? “We have invited Sheikh al-Azhar to talk to people in Finland about the importance of the interfaith dialogue in the Middle East. Perhaps, this would happen in 2011,” Archbishop Paarma said.
“I realise that we need to grow the seeds of good relations between Muslims and Christians.
“Finally,” he said, “I hope that our visit to Egypt will help promote mutual understanding, cooperation and love between people of different religious.”