Tuesday 6 September witnessed the opening of the 11th general assembly of the MECC in Amman, with participation of 22 patriarchs and heads of its members Churches: the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Churches; as well as delegations from Churches in various parts of the world. The session convened at the invitation of Theophilos III, Greek Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and All Palestine and Jordan. The motto of the convention was “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever”.
Plight of Middle East Christians
A number of Coptic Orthodox bishops had already arrived to participate in the assembly: Anba Bishoi, Metropolitan of Dumyat (Damietta) and Bilqas; Anba Benyamin, Metropolitan of Menoufiya; Anba Thomas, Bishop of Qiusiya and Meir, and Deputy Secretary-General of the Holy Synod; and Girgis Saleh, Honorary Secretary-General of the MECC. This year’s assembly focuses on the plight of Middle East Christians.
The heads of Churches who spoke focused thanked Jordan and King Abdullah for hosting the convention, and spoke of the need for dialogue, tolerance, mercy and cooperation to resolve the crisis of Middle East Christians and ease their plight.
Pope Tawadros’s word to the assembly drew on the Bible verse: “For God’s Love compels us…” (2 Cor 5: 14). He said this applied to the Church in the Middle East at all times from generation to generation. The Pope said it was important that Christians and moderate Muslims should work hand in hand to honour the dignity of the human race, and to uphold noble values and principles. This way, he said, violence and fanaticism may be rejected.
“The Church has a vital spiritual role to play,” Pope Tawadros said, “in leading congregation to the way of salvation and eternal life. But it has, in addition, a pivotal social role that works to serve and preserve our nations. Nations are the big home that gathers under its shelter all citizens.
“We always pray in our churches: ‘O King of Peace, grant us Your peace…”
Meeting with the King
Pope Tawadros II is in Jordan on a visit by invitation from King Abdullah. He was received by the king last Sunday 4 September at the Royal Palace in Amman.
The meeting was cordial and warm-hearted and was attended by Prince Ghazi, the King’s personal envoy and religious and cultural affairs adviser; and the delegation of Coptic Orthodox bishops and clergy who accompanied the Pope on his visit.
King Abdullah said that Jordan has always been and still is a model of harmonious Muslim-Christian coexistence in the region and the world, and highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts to entrench the concepts of dialogue and understanding among followers of different religions.
Talks also covered means to boost Copts’ visits to the Kingdom and the Christian pilgrimage sites, especially the Baptism Site, which figures highly on Christian religious sites.
The King and the Coptic Pope discussed the Jordan-hosted 11th general assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) meetings, which focuses this year on the region’s Christians.
Pope Tawadros commended Jordan’s pursuit of understanding and harmony among followers of religions and the role of the Hashemites in preserving Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
First visit to Jordan
Pope Tawadros II had arrived at Amman early afternoon on Saturday 3 September, where he was given an official reception at the airport. The visit is the Pope’s first to Jordan. According to the spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox Church Fr Boulos Halim, the Pope’s visit is a pastoral one and is expected to last one week. The Pope will also participate in the 11th general assembly of the MECC, which takes place on 6 – 8 September and focuses on the predicament of Middle East Christians and their suffering, as well as the relief work they are in dire need of.
Saturday evening, the Pope presided over Vespers incense service at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Holy Virgin and Mar Girgis (St George) in Amman. Attending was Egypt’s Ambassador to Amman, Tarek Adel.
Following prayers, Pope Tawadros expressed his gratefulness for the generosity and kindness shown by King Abdullah to His Holiness and the delegation accompanying him, which included Anba Antonius, Metropolitan of Jerusalem and the Near East; Anba Ilarion, Bishop-General of Ezbet al-Hagana, Almaza, and Zahraa’ Madinet Nasr; Anba Hermina, Bishop-General of Ain Shams and Matariya; and papal secretaries Fr Angaelos Ishaq and Fr Ammonius Adel; as well as the priests of the Coptic churches in Amman.
Pope Tawadros thanked King Abdullah and Jordan’s officials for their kindness and generosity, and said he “came carrying a message of peace from Egypt to Jordan” He gave a word that focused on love and the abundant blessings of God.
Site of the Epiphany
Sunday morning saw Pope Tawadros preside over Holy Mass, and meet the Coptic community in Jordan. He then headed to the Coptic Orthodox monastery of St Anthony the Great in Madaba, 30km southwest Amman, and officially opened it. It was Pope Shenouda III (Coptic Orthodox patriarch from 1971 to 2012, today seen by the Copts as a modern-day saint) who in 2005 laid the foundation stone of the monastery and gave it its name.
The Pope, together with the delegation accompanying him, visited Mount Nebo where they were given a detailed tour of the historical site. He also visited the Baptism Site where St John the Baptist used to baptise people and where he baptised Jesus Himself. The Coptic Orthodox has a church in the vicinity, consecrated to the Epiphany. King Abdullah ahs ordered the allocation of land to expand the church.
In the guest book to the Epiphany site, Pope Tawadros wrote: “I was happy today to visit this blessed site in the company of Prince Ghazi Muhammad and Jordanian officials. This sacred spot has been blessed by the footsteps of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, and has been home to generations of saintly men and women. I, and the Coptic delegation with me, encourage all Christians and Muslims to come visit this spot and partake of its blessings.”
Pope Tawadros was keen to meet the Coptic clergy of the Jerusalem and Near East parish which includes Jerusalem, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan. He held a meeting with them, listened to what they had to say, gave them his guidance, prayed for them and blessed them.
6 September 2016