Tuesday 10 May saw a loving group of men and women gather at the Logos Centre in the Western Desert monastery of Anba Bishoi. Heading the gathering was Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, participating were the Apostolic Nuncio in Cairo Archbishop Bruno Musarò, together with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac and a large number of Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and members of the laity. They gathered upon invitation from Pope Tawadros to celebrate the third anniversary of the ‘Day for Brotherly Love’, the day which three years ago saw the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros in Rome.
Love as precondition
The 2013 meeting was one of epic proportions. It came exactly 40 years after the one that preceded it, which took place between Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI in Rome, and was in turn the first such meeting in over 1500 years. The great rift between the Churches occurred in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon in 451; after that date there were practically no relations between Rome and Alexandria—that is, until 1973.
Back in 2013, Pope Francis warmly welcomed Pope Tawadros saying that this meeting between the heads of the See of St Peter and the See of St Mark, and the previous one 40 years earlier, marked “an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mistrust.”
“May this visit of love and brotherhood,” Pope Tawadros said, “be the first of a long series between our two great Churches. Therefore I propose that the 10th of May each year should be a celebration of brotherly love between the two Churches, so that we may be always reminded that we have already solidly embarked on the path of unity.”
“True,” Pope Tawadros said, “unity between Churches requires extensive theological dialogue but, without brotherly love, unity can never materialise.”
Journeying towards unity
This year at the monastery of Anba Bishoi, the Coptic Orthodox Pope joyfully welcomed his guests and prayed for love and unity of Churches.
Pope Francis sent Pope Tawadros a letter in which he recalled their historic meeting on 10 May 2013, and reminded of the many steps which had since taken place on the path of dialogue and better mutual understanding. He wrote that he hoped the dialogue conitnues and bears fruit to testify to the bond which unites the two Churches. Orthodox and Catholic all strive for the same end, he stressed, to lead lives of sanctity and dignity, to honour marriage and family, and to respect God’s creation which He entrusted to their care.
Pope Francis wrote that his thoughts and prayers were directed towards the Christians in the Middle East, who live the agony of daily persecution. “May the Lord comfort them and give them peace,” he wrote. “May He grant the international community the inspiration to act with wisdom and justice to confront the unprecedented violence in the region.”
“Though we are still journeying towards the day when we will gather as one at the same eucharistic table,” Pope Francis wrote, “we are able even now to make visible the communion uniting us.”
Honours and ideas
Pope Tawadros wrapped up the gathering by thanking one and all who participated in it, but especially Pope Francis for his loving message. He said that the gathering was being held while the Coptic Church was still chanting the joyful hymns of the Resurrection, and that only love can give real joy. He proposed two suggestions to celebrate this annual event: the first was to honour a figure who had contributed to the Church; if the Orthodox Church hosts the event, the honoree would be a Catholic figure; if the Catholic Church is host, the honoree would be an Orthodox figure. The Pope also suggested an art contest for the best artwork to express unity in Christ, under the theme “That all be One”.
As the first implementation of his proposals, Pope Tawadros honoured the Jesuit Father Henri Boulad for his “profound monastic history with the Jesuits. We pray that the Lord keeps him in good health.”
Fr Boulad appeared lost for words to respond to that honour. He said it made him happy to be gathered with all those present at Logos centre, ‘logos’ being a word wich opens horizons of unity for the entire human family not only for the ecumenical group.
Fr Boulad has been a monk for more than 60 years. He wrote a number of books on theology and philosophy, was head of the Jesuit school in Cairo, director of the Jesuit Cultural Centre in Alexandria, and director of Caritas Egypt. He has been decorated by France and Lebanon.
11 May 2016