The first meeting between the two popes, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II has taken place at the Vatican in Rome, in a climate of unceremonious informality, humbleness, and love which truly reflects both their personalities.
Pope Tawadros II and his accompanying delegation arrived at Rome yesterday at noontime. On hand to welcome him at the airport were Khaled Ayad of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican; Father Rafiq Greiche, head of press office of the Catholic Churches in Egypt; the Egyptian Ambassador to Rome Amr Helmy and Ahmed Ra’fat, the Egyptian charge d’affaires to the Vatican. The Coptic Orthodox bishops of Rome and Milano, Anba Barnaba and Anba Kyrillos were also there, as were hundreds of Copts resident in Italy who thronged the airport to welcome Pope Tawadros
Accompanying Pope Tawadros were Anba Pachomeus, Bishop of Beheira; Anba Hedra, Bishop of Aswan; Anba Raphail, secretary-general of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod; Anba Epiphanius, abbot of St Macarius Monastery in the Western Desert the papal secretary Fr Angaelus Ishaq, and Fr Seraphim al-Suriani, the papal secretary for the affairs of the Coptic Diaspora.
Once Pope Tawadros arrived at the Vatican, he was greeted by Pope Francis who welcomed him warmly.
Pope Tawadros II and the delegation accompanying him stayed at the Saint Marta Hotel guesthouse in the Vatican, a 120-room guesthouse that usually hosts cardinals, bishops and VIPs. Pope Francis also preferred to stay there. The first meeting between the two popes lasted for one hour.
In the afternoon, the Egyptian delegation visited St Peter’s, and at 8:00pm had dinner with Pope Francis.
Pope Francis says:
Friday morning, Pope Tawadros II met with the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian unity and, at 11:30 am, the official meeting with Pope Francis took place.
Pope Francis began by welcoming Pope Tawadros and the Egyptian clergy who accompanied him, and recalling that another historic meeting had taken place between Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI exactly 40 years ago, “in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mistrust.”
“Today’s visit,” Pope Francis said, “strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that already exist between the See of Peter and the See of Mark, heir to an inestimable heritage of martyrs, theologians, holy monks, and faithful disciples of Christ.
“Forty years ago the Common Declaration of our predecessors represented a milestone on the ecumenical journey…and prepared the ground for broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire family of Oriental Orthodox Churches, a dialogue that continues to bear fruit to this day.”
Pope Francis gratefully acknowledged the “many marks of attention and fraternal charity” Pope Tawadros has shown to the Catholic Church and its pastors; and also commended the Coptic Pope’s efforts at bringing together all the Churches in Egypt. He invoked the protection of St Peter and St Mark, “who during their lifetime worked together for the spread of the Gospel”, and their intercession and help along the journey of the unity of the Churches.
Pope Tawadros says:
Pope Tawadros, after congratulating Pope Francis on his divine appointment as Pope and Bishop of Rome, went on to explain how he deliberately wished this visit to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the visit by Pope Shenouda III to Pope Paul VI on 4 -10 May back in 1973.
“May this visit of love and brotherhood,” Pope Tawadros said, “be the first of a long series between our two great Churches. Therefore I propose that the 10th of May each year should be a celebration of brotherly love between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.”
Pope Tawadros spoke of Egypt as the country of the Nile; of the Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic civilisations; of St Anthony, St Pachomeus, and St Athanasius. “The Prophet says, ‘Out of Egypt, I have called my son’ and ‘Blessed be Egypt my people’, and Jesus Himself sanctified its soil when he tread on it”.
“I am honoured and very glad to be here in the Vatican,” Pope Tawadros said. “Despite its being the smallest country in the world, it is the most important for its great influence and Holy Service.”
He expressly cited the mission he was after: “The most important aim for us is the promotion of ecumenical dialogue in order to get to the most pursued goal, unity.
More visits and meetings
A meeting with the mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno is scheduled for Pope Tawadros and the accompanying delegation 4:00 pm, followed by a visit to the Colosseum.
Tomorrow, the Pope visits the Vatican museum in the morning.
In the afternoon, he meets in Rome with Orthodox Copts of Turin, and has dinner with the Egyptian ambassador to Rome Amr Helmy.
Sunday morning, Pope Tawadros celebrates Holy Mass at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Laurentina, Rome, and in the afternoon he visits the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. He meets Cardinal Leondardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches on Monday morning.
This completes the Coptic Pope’s visit to the Vatican. Pope Tawadros then moves on to Milano for a six-day pastoral visit of the Coptic Orthodox Church there.
Coptic affairs an Egyptian matter
The Pope’s visit to the Vatican is his first international visit after his enthronement last November.
While yet in Cairo, Father Angaelus Ishaq denied absolutely that the talks between the two popes would tackle the situation and grievances of the Copts in Egypt. Pope Tawadros, he insisted, believes that Coptic affairs are Egyptian internal issues that should be tackled nowhere but in Egypt. Pope Tawadros is a sincere patriotic, Fr Angaelus said, and he totally refuses to discuss the internal problems internationally or to invite foreigners to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.
This is the second visit by a Coptic Pope to the Vatican. Exactly 40 years ago, on 10 May 1973, Pope Shenouda III visited Paul VI and they issued a joint ecumenical declaration.
10 May 2013