Pope Tawadros II’s 33-day pastoral tour in The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada
The Copts in Egypt missed him. But Pope Tawadros II insisted he had a responsibility towards those of his flock who resided outside the country, so much so that he spent 33 days with them on a pastoral tour. After visits to The Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada, the Pope is back in Cairo, and it’s business as usual. But the 33 days spent outside Egypt carried very special significance to the Coptic congregation—and many surprises too.
Walking on Water
The Pope always said he held the young in a very special place in his heart. True to his word, his first stop was at Stads-Canal in Groningen, The Netherlands, where he presided over a conference for Coptic young people in Europe. Some 800 young men and women participated.
The Pope had arrived in Groningen on Thursday 28 August where he was met by Egypt’s Ambassador to The Netherlands Taher Farahat, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of the Netherlands Anba Arsani, and the Bishop of Youth Anba Moussa.
Friday morning, he presided over Holy Mass and gave a sermon on the “life of contentment”. Contentment, he said, came from three sources: a personal life of prayer, praise, and close relationship with God; a steady immersion in Bible study so as to be always receptive to the word of God; and regular Holy Communion. A fair balance of these three, he said, leads to contentment and joy.
The theme of the youth conference, which the Pope opened after Mass, was Walking on Water. According to Pope Tawadros, ‘walking on water’ is characteristic of a Christian life; he summed it up in four points: Fight for the right, let your target be eternal life in Heaven, keep the commandments faithfully, and flee from evil.
The governor of Groningen met the Pope at the conference where they exchanged gifts. The young Copts had made an artefact of the Pope’s picture and they presented it to him amid resounding applause.
The warm-hearted Christian family
From The Netherlands, Pope Tawadros II headed to Switzerland where he met the Coptic congregation at St Michael’s Coptic Orthodox church in Geneva. There, the topic of interest was the Christian marriage the success of which, the Pope stressed, related primarily to the warm presence of Christ in the home. “Christian family life,” he insisted, “should be based on love, respect of differences, candour, and union between the man and wife on all spiritual, emotional, physical, social, and dialogue levels.” The Pope stressed the responsibility of the male head of the family towards his wife and children, a responsibility which should be exercised and reciprocated with gentleness, tenderness, and warm-hearted gratitude.
While in Geneva, Pope Tawadros visited the World Council of Churches (WCC) on the first of September. He participated with representatives from ecumenical and international organisations in morning prayers followed by a meeting with staff and a conversation with the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. The Coptic Orthodox Church is a founding member church of the WCC since 1948.
In his reflections, Pope Tawadros spoke of the historic contributions of the Coptic Orthodox Church, among them vibrant traditions of spirituality, theological studies and monastic life.
“The Coptic Church is one of the main pillars of Egyptian society,” he said. There are also 28 parishes in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas, and more than 300 churches and 10 monasteries around the world, served by more than 400 clerics. The Church has also built a hospital in Kenya, and seven schools and seminaries in different places, as well as two cultural centres in the UK and the Netherlands.
Egypt’s St Maurice: Martyred in Switzerland
Pope Tawadros said there is “new hope for Egypt” with the adoption of a new Constitution in the country. He remembered the June 2013 Revolution in Egypt where, he said, “Christians and Muslims struggled together to end the dark [Muslim Brotherhood] regime”. He affirmed the long history of peaceful social coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, despite occasional instances of attacks against Copts.
The Pope expressed concern over migration of Christians from the Middle East. He called it a “dangerous trend” which he said cannot resolve the problems faced by Christian communities in the region.
The WCC General Secretary, Rev. Tveit, affirmed the commitment of the WCC in solidarity with Christians around the world, particularly those in critical situation as in the Middle East.
He added that the WCC is a global fellowship which brings together Churches from the East and the West in a quest for unity, justice and peace.
The highlight of the Swiss visit was the 6th century monastery of St Maurice. Accompanied by Anba Luca Bishop General of France and French speaking Switzerland, the Pope was received by the abbot, Monseigneur Joseph Roduit. There the Pope prayed at the shrine of St Maurice, and later presided over Holy Mass. Anba Luca handed Pope Tawadros part of the relics of the saint to take back to Cairo. St Maurice was an Egyptian army officer from Upper Egypt who fought in Europe with the Theban Legion and died there in 305 because he refused to relinquish his Christian faith.
Largest Coptic church outside Egypt
If the length of visits goes by size, then the Pope was right to give Canada’s Copts a full 26 days of his visit. Arriving at Toronto on 4 September, he was received at the airport by Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a number of Canadian MPs. Also there to welcome Pope Tawadros were Anba Serapion, Bishop of South California; Anba Macarius, Bishop of Eritrea; Bishop General Anba Botros; Anba Youssef, Bishop of South America; Anba Youssef, Bishop of Bolivia; Anba David, Bishop of New York; Bishop General and New Jersey papal deputy Anba Karas; Anba Yulius, Bishop General of Old Cairo; Anba Maqar, Bishop of Sharqiya; Anba Danial, Bishop and Abbot of Anba Shenouda Monastery in Sydney; and papal secretary Father Ammonius Adel.
The Pope’s visit coincided with the celebration of the golden jubilee for the first Coptic Church in Canada; he was guest of honour at a dinner event held in Toronto, during which he met Prime Minster Stephen Harper, Mayor of Markham Frank Scarpitti, and a number of dignitaries and politicians.
The Pope inaugurated and consecrated St Mark’s Cathedral in Markham, Toronto. Built on an area of 7100sq.m., it is the largest Coptic church outside Egypt, and houses several altars. The Pope presided over Holy Mass once he had consecrated the altars, icons, and all the sacred utensils with Myron—holy oil.
Through a very busy schedule that took him from Toronto to Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Perth, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Halifax, Stouffville, Vancouver, Pope Tawadros met congregations, led prayers and presided over Divine Liturgy. He ordained new priests, baptised babies, laid cornerstones for new buildings, blessed land over which churches would be built, and consecrated altars and icons. He presided over seminars and conventions, and gave talks in which the main themes were love, joy, and tolerance, prayer and spiritual struggle. The Pope also met spiritual leaders and public figures.
In Perth, Ontario, Pope Tawadros laid the cornerstone of St Anthony’s monastery, the first Coptic Orthodox monastery in Canada. His Holiness assigned Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, to supervise the overall development of the monastery. The Coptic Church had purchased a 250-acre property that included a ready-to-use building which the Church decided would make a good start to house the monastery.
St Mark’s Coptic Museum
While in Toronto, Pope Tawadros paid a visit to St Mark’s Coptic Museum where he was guided on a tour of the exhibits which he greatly admired. Even though many other museums boast Coptic collections, St Mark’s is the only Coptic museum outside Egypt. Open to the public since 2000, it houses a diverse collection of exhibits that run through Egypt’s history since ancient Egyptian times and on to the Greek, Roman, Coptic, Islamic, and modern times. According to the museum’s volunteer curator, Helene Moussa, the museum stresses that Coptic art is a living tradition that carries on to this day; the most recent acquisition is Victor Fakhoury’s The Martyrs of Maspero which commemorates the more than 20 Copts who lost their lives on 9 October 2011, run down by military tanks in Maspero, Cairo.
The exhibits includes icons dating from the 16th to 20th century; hand woven tapestries from the 20th century Wissa Wassef School in Harraniya, Giza; manuscripts and rare books, coins, stamps, papyrus fragments, terracotta, metal, and wood works, crosses, and much more. The highlight of the museum collection are six of the original biblical scenes painted by the pioneering 20th century Egyptian artist Marguerite Nakhla in Coptic folkloric style.
Every one of the items exhibited, Ms Moussa says, is backed with legally signed documents from the donors or sellers. “The Pope wrote a lovely message in our guest book,” she says.
The Pope’s packed schedule, however, did not get in the way of the constant telephone contact he maintained with his spiritual mentor, the widely loved and respected Anba Pachomeus, Bishop of Beheira and Pentapolis, who is in London for medical treatment. Pope Tawadros has been happy to learn of the Bishop’s much improved health.
8 October 2014