Archbishop of Vienna visits Egypt
Friday 21 October saw Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, arrive at Cairo where he was warmly received by Pope Tawadros II. Anba Gabriel, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Vienna, accompanied the Cardinal on his Egypt visit.
The Cardinal’s visit came upon an invitation last May by the Coptic Orthodox Pope who was then on a visit to Vienna. During that visit last May, Cardinal Schönborn handed Pope Tawadros and Anba Gabriel the Vienna church of Mary the Victorious, which he said was an “offering from the heart” by the Vienna Catholic congregation to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Church of Mary the Victorious dates back to 1870, and is among Vienna’s touristic sites. The Copts renamed it the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael. http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/coptic-affairs/gift-from-the-heart/16494/
Martyrs of faith
In Cairo, Pope Tawadros welcomed Cardinal Schönborn at the St Mark Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, where they exchanged courtesies and paid a visit to the shrine of St Mark in the crypt of the Cathedral.
The following day, Saturday 22 October, the Cardinal headed to the parish of Samalout in Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, where he was received by Samalout Bishop Anba Pavnotius. Together, they visited the Samalout parish school Madraset al-Ahd al-Gadeed, literally School of the New Testament, and spent a lively time with the children; the Cardinal cheerily told Anba Pavnotius how lucky he was to have 1500 children.
Cardinal Schönborn and the Austrian-Egyptian delegation accompanying him then headed to the Samalout village of al-Our. The village is home to 13 of the 20 Egyptian young men who were beheaded by Daesh in Libya in February 2015. A church is now being built upon an initiative from the State to commemorate the victims of the beheading, who have been declared by the Coptic Church as ‘martyrs’. The new church has been named by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi the Church of the Martyrs of Faith.
Cardinal Schönborn praised the Egyptian administration’s decision to build the church, and was extremely impressed when Anba Pavnotius informed him that the church was scheduled to open before yearend. He said he thought it would take years to complete the works. The Cardinal met the martyrs’ families who are poor villagers but came eagerly to greet the Austrian bishop and talk of the loved ones they had lost on account of their Christian faith. He prayed for the families, blessed them and asked for their blessings. As he left, he made the comment that his visit to Samalout was among the highlights of his trip to Egypt.
The Wilderness of Scetis
On 23 October, Cardinal Schönborn headed north to Wadi al-Natroun in Egypt’s Western Desert, the site historically known as the Wilderness of Scetis. He first visited the monastery of St Macarius where he was received and guided around the ancient churches and keep by the Abbot, Anba Epiphanius.
The next stop was at the Monastery of Anba Bishoi. There, the abbots of the three neighbouring monasteries of Anba Bishoi, al-Surian, and al-Baramous were on hand to welcome the Cardinal: Anba Sarapamon, Anba Matta’os, and Anba Isidoros.
Once at Anba Bishoi’s, the Cardinal visited the fourth century church where he prayed and took blessings from the relics of the saints, major among whom is St Bishoi. He also visited the shrine of Pope Shenouda III (patriarch from 1971 to 2012) who was a personal friend of Cardinal Schönborn.
It was then time for Pope Tawadros to receive the Cardinal at the papal headquarters at Anba Bishoi’s. It was a warm hearted visit, and the Cardinal wrote a word in the guestbook:
“It is a very special privilege to sign the first page of this guestbook of the new LOGOS Centre, rich of promises for the future of the Coptic Church, the Ecumenical meetings, and the strengthening of bonds of friendship. May the Lord bless this place, sanctified by centuries of holy lives of the monks of the desert.
“Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
R. Cath. Archbishop of Vienna
23 – 24 of October 2016”
Seat of patriarchs
The following day, 25 October, was time to visit Alexandria. The coastal city welcomed Cardinal Schönborn with flowers and warm smiles. Anba Pavly, Bishop-General of Montazah churches and supervisor of youth service in Alexandria, as well as some 70 Alexandria priests were on hand to receive the Cardinal who first headed to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) which he praised for the magnificent compromise it offered of Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic heritage. He was escorted through BA’s halls and exhibits, of which he especially admired the manuscripts collection.
Cardinal Schönborn then visited the St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria; the city was the birthplace of Christianity in Egypt and the seat of the Coptic patriarchs from the 1st to the 11th AD century when it moved to Cairo. The Cardinal was given a briefing on the Cathedral’s history and visited the crypt which acted as burial place for the patriarchs of the Alexandria Church. He then addressed a few words to express his love of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Tawadros II. He also expressed his gratitude for the warm reception he had been given. Fr Rweiss Marcos of St Mark’s, Alexandria, presented the Cardinal with a collection of icons depicting a number of the saints of the Coptic Church.
Before leaving Alexandria altogether, Cardinal Schönborn paid a visit to the monastery of Mar-Mina (St Menas) in Mariut, some 70km south of Alexandria. The centuries-old site holds the remains of what had been a thriving city that had cropped up around the monastery during the 4th to 7th centuries, after which it fell into decline and was only revived in the 1960s by Pope Kyrillos VI. The Cardinal visited the shrine if Pope Kyrillos VI for blessings.
The last day in Cardinal Schönborn’s visit was spent in Cairo touring the Muqqattam Hill complex of St Simon the Tanner which was almost miraculously established in the midst of and by the Cairo garbage collector community. The Cardinal was guided through the rock-hewn churches and halls and given a briefing of their history.
Then it was back home to Vienna after a visit that was obviously a blessing to both host and guest.
26 October 2016