“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4), was the joyful motto of the forum “Back to Roots”, the World Youth Week (WYW) of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The forum runs from 25 August to 2 September 2018 at the Logos Centre in the monastery of Anba Bishoi in Wadi al-Natrun in Egypt’s Western Desert. The WYW comes under the sponsorship of Pope Tawadros II.
Some 200 second- and third-generation young men and women of the Coptic Diaspora from more than 50 countries across the world were invited to spend one week at the desert monastery in Egypt. The participants, aged 22 to 28, are active members of their churches. Side by side with spiritual activity, they are treated to a cultural and tourist programme that includes visits to Egypt’s renowned landmarks and monasteries.
The opening ceremony at Logos Centre started with a word from Fr Raphael Tharwat, Coordinator-General of the WYW. “This is a unique event,” Fr Rapahael said. “For the first time in the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, young Egyptians from all over the world have converged on Egypt for a forum. We currently have 33 Coptic dioceses outside Egypt, in more than 50 countries over the world.”
Fr Raphael explained that the forum is being held in 2018, seeing that that year is one that features a number of major anniversaries. For one, it marks fifty years on the establishment of Coptic churches abroad in response to the need of migrant Copts. It also marks the golden jubilee of the Manifestation of the Holy Virgin Mary at her church in Zaitoun, Cairo; and 50 years on the opening of St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbassiya, Cairo, at the hands of Pope Kyrillos VI. There the relics of St Mark the Evangelist, who had preached Christianity in Egypt in the first AD century and whose relics had been carried to Venice in 828, were placed upon bringing them home from the Vatican.
The year is also the centenary of the establishment of Sunday School in the Coptic orthodox Church at the hands of St Archdeacon Habib Girgis; Sunday School remains a mainstay of education in Church.
The forum is held with three main purposes, Fr Raphael noted. First, it strengthens relation between young Copts in the Diaspora and their roots in Egypt and the Coptic Church. Second, he said addressing the participants, “it brings to you the joy of our spirituality, Church, and Egyptian roots. And third, our goal is to listen to you and all you have to say; because you are the future.”
During the week, participants from America, Canada, Australia, England, Europe, Asia and Africa experience first hand the profound spiritual life of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt; even as they meet and exchange views, forming a worldwide network of Coptic youth. Members of each diocese will plant at Logos a tree to immortalise their visit.
The opening ceremony included a televised speech by Nabila Makram, Minister of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriate Affairs, who said that the World Youth Week is an important step towards connecting second and third generations of Egyptians outside Egypt with their roots through lectures, seminars, visits, and meetings with prominent Egyptian and Coptic figures in various fields.
When it was time for Pope Tawadros II to speak, he expressed how happy he was with holding such a gathering of young men and women from all over the world. “This was a dream I have been attempting to realise since I became patriarch in 2012 … Now, thanks to continuous prayer and diligent efforts, it has come true.
“I would like to welcome our beloved young sons and daughters from US, Europe, the Gulf, Jerusalem, Australia, Africa, Sudan and from Egypt,” the Pope said. “Because the place can accommodate just a limited number, we were able to send out only 200 invitations to our dioceses inside and outside Egypt,” implying that he wished it could have been more.
“Today’s forum is the fruit of months of preparation,” Pope Tawadros added. “I am glad so to see the participation of bishops and priests from outside and inside Egypt, and also MPs and public figures all of whom were keen to attend.”
The Pope spoke of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt as a Mother Church. “A mother always looks for and after her children,” he said. “We are proud of our Church’s history, her faith, heritage, hymns and saints, the martyrs and monks. When we look into your young, bright faces, we can see the brilliant future of our Coptic Church.
“You are the fruit of the dedicated efforts and encouragement of your families, churches, and Church servants who all did their best for you to become figures of whom we are proud.”
Pope Tawadros reminded the attendees of the forum’s motto: “JOY … Rejoice in the Lord”, stressing that true joy comes not from without but from within the soul, as a gift of God. In the word “JOY”, he said, “J” stands for “Jesus”, whereas “O” and “Y” are the two main vowels in “Coptic” and “Egypt”.
“Today,” he beamed as he concluded, “The number of my friends has increased by some 200 young men and women.”
Egyptian business magnate Naguib Sawiris was present at the forum to talk, together with other prominent figures, of their success stories in Egypt. Once he concluded his word, Pope Tawadros presented him with a souvenir gift, and the young people eagerly rushed to take selfie photos with him. He was all smiles as he complied.
The young people got to meet Maggie Gobran, the famous Mama Maggie whose work with Egypt’s poor garbage collector community has reached world renown. She talked about the importance of social service, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who roamed about doing good. During the same session, the Coptic nun Tamav Anastasia spoke of her arduous work to earn a PhD in Coptic Studies from the Institute of Coptic Studies, affiliated to the Coptic Orthodox Church, and how this worked to enhance both the spiritual and personal aspects of her character.
According to Watani’s Alexandria correspondent Nevine Kameel, the Alexandria church of the Holy Virgin and St Joseph in Smouha has arranged 20 art workshops to take place over the week at Logos Centre. The participant youth may choose whichever to participate in, according to personal preference.
And today, 28 August, the young people set out to Cairo where they visited the Giza Pyramids and Old Cairo churches. The churches in the Coptic district of Cairo, Old Cairo, go back to the 4th century and many of them have undergone restoration. The young Copts listened to guides tell them the history and highlights of each church.
28 August 2018