Pope Tawadros visits Ethiopia
In the great Meskel Square in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt, addressed more than a million Ethiopians who had gathered to hear him speak and seek his blessing. “In the spirit of love, we promote a culture of dialogue and mutual cooperation, and support development projects as a means to achieve the welfare of nations. This applies equally to the peoples of Egypt and Ethiopia, Sudan and everywhere.” The Pope was significantly alluding to the three nations that share the waters of the river Nile, especially those that come with the annual Nile flood which generates in the upstream Ethiopian Abyssinian plateau, and runs downstream to Sudan and Egypt. For Egypt especially, which is technically a desert that gets next to no rainfall, the Nile waters carry nothing short of life itself. With Ethiopia building its gigantic Renaissance Dam that would purportedly deprive Egypt of part of its annual quota of Nile waters, the issue of sharing the waters has become an increasingly thorny one.
Yet Pope Tawadros was not in Ethiopia on account of the Nile waters issue, or any political issue for that matter, as he made eminently clear before he embarked on his trip to Addis Ababa on the evening of Friday 25 September.
“My visit has nothing to do with the current talks about the River Nile or the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” he told reporters who saw him off at Cairo airport, insisting he had not been commissioned by anyone—neither President Sisi nor any other high-ranking Egyptain official—to broach the topic with Ethiopian officials. When asked whether there was anything the Coptic Church may do on that head, seeing that it was a sister Church to the Tawahedo Ethiopian Church and shared with her a strong historical link, Pope Tawadros replied that out of a sense of love for Egypt and Ethiopia and for both their Churches he attempts to promote a spirit of understanding on that matter. He explained that the political changes that have taken place in the two countries during the last half-century have changed the manner in which the State and Church interact, and that the Ethiopian Church no longer possessed the soft power it used to exercise before. “We cannot turn back the arms of the clock,” he said, “but there is a constant principle that never changes, that being that the Church works for the good of the nation.
“Egypt and Ethiopia,” the Pope said, “have always shared common factors in their history, geography, and faith. These will continue to sustain good relations between both peoples. The Nile is a precious gift of God to all who live on its banks and, as such, should not be turned into an object of conflict.”
Planned months ago
Pope Tawadros’s purpose in visiting Ethiopia, he said, was to take part in the Feast of the Holy Cross which Ethiopians celebrate on the same date as Egyptians, and which is a major religious feast in Ethiopia. It is celebrated on 27 September in a simple year and on 28 September in a leap year. The Pope said he was also reciprocating the visit of the Ethiopian Patriarch Abune Mathias I to Cairo last January, and to confirm the deep-rooted lasting relations between the two Churches. The visit, he said, is his first to Ethiopia and had been planned months ago.
Accompanying the Pope on his four-day visit, the first he pays to Ethiopia during his papacy which started in November 2012, was a large delegation of Coptic bishops. These included Anba Bishoi, Bishop of Damietta, Kafr al-Sheikh and al-Barari; Anba Hedra, Metropolitan of Aswan; Anba Sawiris, Bishop and Abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Virgin, known as al-Muharraq Monastery; Anba Pimen, Bishop of Naqada and Qous; Anba Kyrillos, Bishop and Abbot of Mar-Mina Monastery in Maryut; and Anba Dumadius, Bishop of 6th of October parish. There were also Tamav Tekla, Mother Superior of Mar-Girgis Convent in Old Cairo; papal secretary Father Angaelos, and the two prominent Coptic laymen Kamel Michel and Antoun Riyad.
Abune Mathias I was at the airport to welcome Pope Tawadros who arrived at Addis Ababa at dawn on Saturday 26 September. A reception was later held for the Pope at The Holy Trinity Cathedral, where the 55 members of the Ethiopian Tawahedo Holy Synod were on hand to welcome the Egyptian Pope and the delegation accompanying him, as was the Egyptian Ambassador to Addis Ababa Aboubakr Hefny and his Ethiopian counterpart in Cairo Muhammad Dirir, as well as Father Angaelos Saad, pastor of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Canada and members of the Canadian medical mission to Ethiopia. Prominent Ethiopian and Egyptian public figures in Addis Ababa were also present. Hundreds of thousands of the Ethiopian congregation gathered in the square in front of the cathedral to join in the resounding welcome of Pope Tawadros. The Holy Trinity cathedral, known in Amharic as Kidist Selassie, is the highest ranking Orthodox cathedral in Addis Ababa, and is second in its importance as a place of worship only to the church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in the old capital of Ethiopia, Axum.
On the official front, Pope Tawadros paid a visit to the Egyptian embassy in Addis Ababa and met the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos. Their conversation went naturally to the Renaissance Dam; Mr Gebre-Christos said Ethiopia was keen to confirm the dam will cause no harm to Egypt, and Pope Tawadros said Egypt supports Ethiopia’s efforts towards progress and combatting poverty.
Celebrating the Holy Cross
Pope Tawadros visited Ethiopian churches, monasteries and convents including Lalibela churches and Sebeta Gethesemani convent, as well as museums among which were the National Museum and the Patriarchal Museum. He presided over Holy Mass at Medhane Alem cathedral in Addis Ababa and at the church of Our Lady Mary of Zion at Axum. He met the Coptic congregation in Ethiopia and opened the Canadian Coptic Hospital there.
As he celebrated Holy Mass at the Medhane Alem (Saviour of the World) cathedral in Addis Ababa—the cathedral is the largest in Ethiopia and the second largest in Africa—Pope Tawadros talked about Zacchaeus who climbed the sycamore tree to see the Saviour. The Pope made a connection between the tree Zacchaeus climbed and the tree upon which Jesus was crucified, noting that we can only find the Saviour on the tree.
On the day of the Feast of the Cross, Pope Tawadros delivered a word to the hundreds of thousands of believers who gathered to hear him in Meskel Square. He expressed his happiness at celebrating the occasion with them, marking the discovery of the Cross by the Empress Helena in the 4th century. “I never expected such a grand celebration,” he said. “I congratulate you that it has deservedly been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage.” The Pope talked of the power of the Cross in our lives: the power to save from sin, weakness, darkness, and death. The Cross, he said, is the epitome of love. Its vertical beam represents the love of God in Heaven for human beings on Earth, and its horizontal beam represents the love human beings extend for one another.
He ended by praying for the Lord to bless Ethiopia and Egypt and their peoples.
30 September 2015