Upper Egyptians in Sohag, some 470km south of Cairo, were elated at receiving Pope Tawadros II for a two-day visit that ended yesterday. This is the second visit the Pope pays to Upper Egypt since he became patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church last November
Upper Egyptians in Sohag, some 470km south of Cairo, were elated at receiving Pope Tawadros II for a two-day visit that ended yesterday. This is the second visit the Pope pays to Upper Egypt since he became patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church last November. The first was some two months ago to Assiut where he visited the Muharraq Monastery and participated in an international conference on Coptic culture held there.
The church bells of the White Monastery, 10km north of Sohag, pealed in joy as the Pope’s car approached the 5th century monastery where he was to consecrate the altars of two new churches, open a conference hall, and follow on the problems and affairs of the congregation in Sohag.
Accompanying the Pope were the bishops Anba Yu’annis, the supervisor of the White Monastery; and Anba Morqos of Shubral-Kheima, Cairo. On hand to welcome the Pope were several Upper Egypt bishops: Anba Pakhoum of Sohag, Anba Wissa of Kosheh, Anba Pimen of Nagada, Anba Hedra of Aswan, Anba Ishiah of Tahta, Anba Psada of Akhmim, Anba Mercurius of Girga, Anba Lucas of Abnoub and Fath, Anba Kyrillos of Nag Hammadi, and Anba Thomas of Qousiya. Strict security measures had been implemented by the security authorities, in order to secure the monastery against any terrorist threat.
The Upper Egyptians of Sohag went out in droves to welcome the Pope, cheering and holding banners of warm applause, They strongly expressed their solidarity with the Pope in his stance vis-à-vis the recent attacks against the Copts in the northeast Cairo district of Khusous and at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, where seven Copts lost their lives and dozens were injured. Pope Tawadros had stood firm, demanding an investigation into the matter and that justice should be served.
“Prayer is what we need most”
Once in the monastery grounds, Pope Tawadros went into the ancient church of St Shenouda the Archimandrite after whom the monastery is named, and offered a prayer of thanksgiving. The Pope said he had only visited this monastery once before in his life, as a six-year-old with his parents. “The monastery was very different then,” he said. “Now it is larger and has much more activity.” He said he planned to visit as many monasteries as he can in the first year of his papacy, since they are places for prayer, and prayer and the power it grants are what we need most now.
The pope then went indoors, but the crowds outside stood their ground, cheering and demanding to see him again; many young people climbed the lampposts and pillars for a glimpse of him. That made the Pope climb up the rooftop to greet them warmly and wave to them.
He then went back indoors for a closed session with Sohag clergy to discuss the affairs of the parish and the problems there; major among them is the return of Anba Ammonius, Bishop of Luxor, who is suspended and whose return is demanded by his parishioners.
The following day, Pope Tawadros consecrated the two new churches; one in the name of the saint Anba Karaas church and the other Anba Pachomeus. He then presided over Holy Mass.
In his sermon, the Pope talked of purity which should emanate, through love, from the heart and spill over to cover every aspect of a person’s life.
Going for the eternal kingdom
The Anba Karaas church which the Pope consecrated is built in a style unique to Egyptian churches. It is erected south of the ancient church, in the form of a castle, since Anba Karaas was himself to be a king but preferred to give up the earthly kingdom to his brother, and gain for himself the eternal one. There are three domes with three crowns, one for the King of Kings the Lord Jesus Christ, the other for the Holy Virgin, and the third for Anba Karaas who relinquished the earthly kingdom.
The building includes a conference centre on the ground floor. On the top floor is the church which is home to three altars; one in the name of St Karaas, another St George, the third St Thomas the hermit.
Every nook and cranny in the new church carries a symbol of the Christian and Bible heritage. The Lord is shown as the Sun of Righteousness, and the living vineyard. The peacock represents eternal life. The fish is the earliest symbol of Christianity; the letters of the word in Greek represents the first letters of ‘Jesus Christ Saviour of the World’. The waters represent the Holy Spirit.
The inner walls of the courtyard outside the church carry painted scenes from the Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve, and through to the saints and Jesus Christ, and on till the Revelation of St John.
All the artefacts and works were done in the monastery’s atelier, over some five years.
Politics and religion don’t mix
A public conference was held in the evening, which thousands attended. The Pope began by giving credit to his predecessor, the revered and well-loved Pope Shenouda III, for reviving the monastery. He recalled three years he had spent with his family in Sohag as an adolescent before they moved to the Delta and he went to university. “That makes me partly Upper Egyptian,” he said, and the crowd cheered.
“Here in Sohag,” the Pope said, “St Shenouda the Archimandrite is loved and visited by Muslims as well as Christians. This makes this convention an Egyptian not a Christian one, and this is what I’ll be talking about.”
Egyptians have since the dawn of time been a pious people, he said; perhaps because of the Nile which flows through the land carrying with it life and prosperity, and instilling love, tolerance, and mildness in us. Egypt has never throughout its history been fanatic, he said; the present-day fanaticism is alien to us.
Today, the Pope said, there is the prominent Islamic institution of al-Azhar which acts as a stronghold of moderation and which, together with the Church, hold Egypt together and promote tolerance.
Politics should never mix with religion, he insisted, given that politics is ever-changing and earthly, while religion is steadfast and scared.
Rejoice, be perfect, take comfort, and live in peace
Pope Tawadros urged the attendants to take as their guide in life the words of St Paul in which he advised to rejoice, strive for perfection, take comfort, and live in peace; all of which can only be achieved through a life in Christ. The source of comfort and joy is the Gospel, he said, and the Church built on faith in the Rock of Ages. He called upon the congregation to make peace with everyone, reminding them of the words of Pope Shenouda III who said: “Egypt is not a land we live in, but a land that lives in our hearts.” The Lord Jesus Himself came to Egypt and lived here for three years; reason enough, he said, for us to draw on that for peace.
21 April 2013