Pope Tawadros II, who is currently in Austria on a pastoral visit that started 10 May, has visited King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) headquartered in the city. Anba Gabriel, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Austria, accompanied Pope Tawadros.
It was the Pope’s first visit to KAICIID, which was established in 2012 on a Saudi initiative with the participation of a number of Arab, Asian and European countries. The Coptic Orthodox Church has been a regular participant in KAICIID’s events and workshops on inter-faith dialogue both inside and outside Egypt.
On his visit, Pope Tawadros was welcomed by Secretary-General faisal bin Abdulrahmann bin Muaammar, and met the Centre’s diverse staff who come from 29 countries and belong to various religions; on its Twitter account KAICIID said its staff embodies the values of interreligious dialogue and coexistence based on mutual understanding and respect for the other. The Pope talked of the importance of interreligious dialogue based on tolerance and understanding to foster peace. Gifts were exchanged, and Pope Tawadros wrote in the guestbook a message under the title: Love never fails.
Schloss turned Coptic monastery
Pope Tawadros had flown to Vienna on 10 July following his visits to Bari and Rome. Anba Gabriel, Bishop of Austria; and Anba Mark, Bishop of Paris and Northern France were on hand at the airport to welcome him.
On his first day in Vienna, Pope Tawadros attended an event at the Monastery of St Anthony in Vienna for the presentation of a book on Prince Eugen Palace in Vienna by Dr Adolf Bayer, an Austrian history scholar. The author also wrote a book about the Schloss Obersiebenbrunn in the district of Gänserndorf in Austria, which the Copts bought in November 2001 and succeeded in restoring and using as a monastery. It took the author five years of research and complete his book.
Bishop Gabriel and Bishop Mark attended the event, as did Bishop Giovanni, Bishop of Central Europe; Ambassador of Egypt to Vienna Omar Amer; Egyptian Consul Muhammad Farag and his deputy Hala Youssef; as well as Austrian officials and Coptic and Austrian figures.
The date 12 July marked the Coptic Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Pope Tawadros presided over Holy Mass, which on the Apostles’ Feast includes the Liturgy of Blessing the Water and Washing Feet, at the Church of the Holy Virgin and Anba Moussa al-Aswad (St Moses the Black, also known as St Moses the Powerful) in Graz, Austria. The church had not been consecrated in the Coptic Orthodox rite, and the Pope consecrated it during the Divine Liturgy.
Pope Tawadros began his sermon by expressing joy at being with the
Graz congregation. He thanked especially Anba Gabriel and Fr Zakariya. “The most wonderful thing about this church of the Holy Virgin and the Powerful Anba Moussa, ” he said, “is her congregation. You live in the Lord’s love, in peace, and you raise your children to attach themselves to Christ.”
The Pope spoke of the ceremony of consecrating or anointing a church as its birth certificate. As the bishop begins the ritual prayers, he said, the congregation responds “Lord have mercy”; the prayers progress and the response changes to “Amen”. Finally, as he anoints the altar and worship utilities, the congregation joyfully sings: “Hallelujah”.
“May God be with you all and give you joy, my beloved sons and daughters,” the pope said.
St Peter and St Paul
Pope Tawadros also talked of St Peter and St Paul whose lives carried so many contradictory traits yet who both rank among the pillars of the Church. St Peter, the Pope said, was the first called to follow Christ; St Paul was the last of the Apostles. St Peter was a poor fisherman; St Paul was a scholar. The two were called to preach the Word and serve the Lord, which they left everything and did, till they were both martyred in His name.
St Peter left us two epistles in the Bible; St Paul wrote 14. Perhaps his greatest legacy to us, said the Pope, is the 13th chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he talked of love, concluding that: “Love never fails” (1Cor 13:8)
“Love is the only thing a person can take with him or her to Heaven,” he said. “As we commemorate the martyrdom of St Peter and St Paul, ask yourself ‘What is my credit of love?’”
Weekly prayer meeting
The evening of 12 July being a Wednesday evening, the time for the Pope’s weekly prayer meeting, Pope Tawadros decided to hold that meeting with the congregation of the church of the Holy Virgin and Archangel Michael in Vienna. His topic: the saints as witnesses to Christ, was the sixth in a series of contemplations under the title “Our Church’s treasures”.
The Pope started with the verses Isaiah 43:10-12: “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me”.
The long history of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros said, includes innumerable saints and martyrs who witnessed to the Lord in word and blood. “They are the light that illuminates our way,” he said. “We celebrate them every day; we commemorate them in Synaxarion, through hymns and praises, and in the Assembly of the Saints during Holy Mass.
“You are lucky you know such a great number of saints,” Pope Tawadros concluded, “if you lead saintly lives as they did, you will be equally rewarded with glory.”
16 July 2018