Earlier this week Pope Tawadros II went on his first visit to Luxor, Upper Egypt, since he was enthroned Patriarch of the See of St Mark in November 2012. The congregation in Qena, Luxor, Armant, and Esna were thrilled to receive him; it is not often that Coptic popes have visited the region. When Pope Shenouda III, who was patriarch from 1971 to 2012, visited Luxor in March 2004 the congregation was so elated that churches still mark the date he graced their churches as a cherished anniversary.
Pope Tawadros spent some five days touring the churches and old monasteries for which the district is famous.
Meeting the governors
Luxor Governor Muhammad Badr and Director of Security Major General Essam al-Hamli as well as other State and Church officials were at hand to greet the Pope upon his arrival at Luxor Airport.
The Pope later had a meeting with Governor Badr, and on Tuesday evening met Qena Governor Abdel-Hamid Abdel Aziz al-Haggan during a dinner held by Qena Bishopric in honour of the Pope.
In Armant, the Pope visited the Hossariya church and the famous Monastery of Mar-Girgis (St George) at al-Ruzaiqat where his Holiness convened with Luxor clergy. Anba Morqos, Bishop of Shubral-Kheima and member of the papal committee in charge of the monastery was present at the meeting. Pope Tawadros prayed in the monastery’s 5th century church and spent time with the monks after having breakfast with them.
Later, the Pope held a prayer meeting with the congregation and talked of the Nativity and how God became man and dwelt on earth. He pointed out that God created man to live a life of purity but that man was corrupted by sin. But, “‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’. God is no more some mere remote character, but became very close to us,” the Pope said.
The Pope lovingly handed souvenirs to the congregation.
107th anniversary, and seminary
Monday evening, Pope Tawadros joined the congregation of the church of the Holy Virgin of Luxor in celebrating the church’s 107th anniversary. A ceremony was also held there in honour of the graduates of the Pope Shenouda III Theological College in Luxor, some 330 graduates of nine classes. Luxor Governor participated in the event.
The Pope Shenouda III Theological College in Luxor opened in 2004, and has continued to offer some 25 courses in Coptic and Theological Studies taught by a number of the most distinguished scholars in the Coptic Orthodox Church, among them Bishop Pachomius of Beheira; Bishop Raphail, Secretary-General of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, and Bishop Hedra of Aswan who is also dean of the seminary.
The foundation stone of the church of the Holy Virgin of Luxor was laid in 1898 and on 23 February 1909 Pope Kyrillos V, the 112th Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of the See of St Mark inaugurated the church. The church is blessed by hosting the relics of St Maurice, head of the Theban Legion, St Victor, and Anba Matta’os al-Fakhouri.
Pope Tawadros also visited the cathedral of the Archangel Mikhail (St Michael), Mar-Morqos (St Mark) and Anba Athanasius in Luxor and presided over Holy Mass. The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid in 1973, but the cathedral remained under construction until 2006. On 20 October 2007 Pope Shenouda III consecrated it.
In his sermon at the cathedral, the Pope focused on children, since that day coincided with the Coptic Orthodox Church’s commemoration of the Bethlehem children who were killed at the hands of King Herod in his attempt to kill the baby [Jesus] that was born ‘King of the Jews’, as the Biblical story goes. The Gospel of St Matthew says that: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Matt 2: 16 – 18)
The Pope called on the congregation to embrace the simplicity and purity of heart of children in order for the Holy Spirit to dwell in their souls.
In Qena, Pope Tawadros consecrated the Boutrossiya church.
He also visited the Great Anba Pachomius monastery and the monasteries in Naqada.
The Pope concluded his memorable visit with a tour of Luxor’s ancient Egyptian monuments.
Reporting by Amany Khairy, Marina al-Qiss Barsoum, Nevine Gadallah, Mina Mehanni
15 January 2016