Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, is home in Cairo after a 10-day visit to Germany that started on 12 October and ended on 22 October. The congregation in Egypt was happy to welcome him home, but felt concern about his health since the general feeling was that he had interrupted his German visit for some undeclared reason.
The visit to Germany served three purposes: The Pope participated in a convention for the patriarchs and bishops of Middle Eastern Churches, titled “Christianity in the Middle East: Challenges and Future”; he met the Coptic Church bishops in Germany and also the congregation; he also underwent medical tests and investigation since he has long suffered from severe back pains.
Pope Tawadros landed in Germany on 12 October to meet his doctors who, he later told reporters at the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin, examined him and advised against surgical intervention at the time being.
On 17 October, the Pope started his official visit to Berlin. He was received at the airport by Egypt’s ambassador to Berlin, Badr Abdel-Ati; and Anba Damian, Bishop of Northern Germany and Abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Virgin and Abu-Seifein (St Mercurius) in Hoexster. Accompanying the Pope were Bishop-General of Old Cairo and the Services Bishopric, Anba Yulius; Papal Secretary Fr Angaelos Ishaq; also representing the Coptic laity were Anis Eissa and Irene Thabet.
The evening saw a dinner held in Pope Tawadros’s honour at the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin, during which Ambassador and Mrs Abdel-Ati warmly welcomed the Pope and the delegation accompanying him, which included Anba Demian and Anba Mishail, Bishop of South Germany and Abbot of the Monastery of St Anthony in Kroeffelbach. The Pope and ambassador exchanged gifts; the Pope’s was a Coptic icon of the Holy Family in Egypt.
Attending the dinner were members of the clergy and members of the diplomatic corps; also the world-renown Egyptian-born German engineers Hany Azer, the civil engineer who headed the construction of the tunnel beneath Berlin’s Tiergarten in 1994 and subsequently, he became the Chief Engineer of Germany’s fourth largest train station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof; Ibrahim Samak who specialises in energy projects, especially solar energy; and Victor Rizkallah, a scientist and consultant civil engineer in the area of geotechnics. All three are members of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s advisory council of Egypt’s scientists and experts.
Middle East Christianity
On the evening of 18 October, Pope Tawadros, together with other Middle Eastern patriarchs and bishops were received by German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and also met the political leaders of the newly-elected German Bundestag.
The two-day convention hosted by the German Evangelical Church and titled “Christianity in the Middle East: Challenges and Future” began on Saturday 21 October. Apart from Pope Twadros II who represented the Coptic Orthodox Church, the participants included Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II; Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Ignatius Afrem II; and the Patriarch of the Indian Syrian Orthodox Church, Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Paulose II.
The patriarchs were received by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Chairperson of the Episcopal Conference in Germany and Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The meeting focused on the different situations of each Church and on the current situation of Christians in Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
Sunday 22 October Pope Tawadros visited the Coptic church of St Mary and the Saints Anba Antonius and Anba Shenouda. The highlight of the visit was a performance by the children’s choir in the church. The congregation was elated to have the Pope among them, and the children joyfully took souvenir photos with the Pope.
Umm al-Dunia, Mother of the World
In Berlin, Pope Tawadros spoke of Egypt as the origin of human civilisation, referring to it in the fond name bestowed upon it by Egyptians and so often used by President Sisi: Umm al-Dunia, literally Mother of the World. The Pope said that Egypt has been blessed with the visit of the Holy Family that took refuge on its land when Herod the King wished to kill the Child Jesus, as the Bible relates in the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew.
“Now,” the Pope said, “the Egyptian government is attempting to make the country a destination of religious tourism by marketing the path taken by the Holy Family in Egypt as a pilgrimage route. Pope Francis has blessed the idea and, once it succeeds, it can be a source of prosperity for the whole nation. The Coptic Church celebrates the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt every year on 1 June; we hope that on both the official and popular levels it can be used to bring in pilgrims.”
The Pope spoke against the terrorism that is viciously targeting Egypt, especially the military, police, Copts, and the judiciary. The purpose, he said, is to divide Egyptians along religious sectarian lines, and thus effectively destabilise the country.
“Egypt’s people have bonded since ancient times; nothing was able to work division among them,” he said. “The Coptic Church has always remained a thoroughly Egyptian institution that never came under any foreign authority. Even though Egypt itself was ruled by foreign powers [throughout some 25 centuries], the Church remained independent, free of foreign influence.
He cautioned young people, however, against falling prey to inaccurate or false information widely circulated on the social media, or campaigns to stir distrust among Egyptians from different sectors. “The love than binds Egyptians is non-destructible, and is capable of making them overcome all difficulties,” he said.
25 October 2017