A recent meeting between President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and all the heads of the Churches in Egypt has aroused the interest and warm sentiments of the Coptic community and Egyptians at large. The meeting took place at the presidential palace in Cairo on Thursday 31 July on an invitation from the President.
Before meeting with all the heads of Churches, the President granted Pope Tawadros II private audience for some 30 minutes. Once this was over, the wider meeting took place. Among those attending were Anba Ibrahim Ishaq, Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church; Rev. Dr Safwat al-Bayadi of the Evangelical Church; Patriarch Theodoros II of the Greek Orthodox Church; Bishop George Bakar of the Greek Catholic Church; Bishop Krikor Augustinus Coussa of the Armenian Catholic Church; Bishop Philip Negm of the Chaldean Church; Fr Samy Fawzy on behalf of Bishop Mounir Hanna of the Episcopal Church who was outside the country; and Bishop George Shihan of the Maronite Church.
“The meeting was one of courtesy and goodwill,” Pope Tawadros said, according to the media centre of the Coptic Orthodox Church. “It reflected respect and appreciation for all Christians of Egypt, especially the Coptic Orthodox in its capacity as the Egyptian national Church and the oldest Church in Egypt.
“The discussion centred on our role as Egyptians—Muslims and Christians alike—in strengthening and supporting the Egyptian economy, and in building confidence between the people and the authorities.
“I seized the opportunity,” His Holiness said, “to congratulate the President on the launching of the Suez Canal Project which promises to benefit not only Egypt, but the world at large.”
Pope Tawadros said it was the first time an Egyptian president meets the heads of the various Christian communities in Egypt. He listened carefully to all what they had to say about the current situation in the region and in Egypt. President Sisi spoke of national unity between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, and how they should always be one hand and heart and soul for the whole world to see.
In reply to a question on whether Coptic grievances and demands were discussed in the meeting, Pope Tawadros said: “ ‘Demands’ is not a precise expression. We talked of many thorny topics, including the abduction of under-age Christian girls, the building of churches, educational curricula, positive media, and effective citizenship. The President noted that time is needed to instill new concepts in the Egyptian society, “a matter we call in Chemistry a ‘time reaction’.”
Plight of Iraqi Christians
It was very obvious, Pope Tawadros said, that the President regards the Church with full appreciation, and sees it as one of the mainstays of life in Egypt, side by side with al-Azhar, the Egypitan Armed Forces, the Police, and the judiciary. The meeting conveys a strong message to the entire world that Egypt is intent on achieving full citizenship rights for every one of her children. “It is a strong sign we are on the right track,” the Pope said.
President Sisi said: “I invite all Egyptians—Christians and Muslims, at home and abroad—to share in the momentous effort we need to rebuild our country, so that our participation would be effective and strong. The invitation is open to all.”
Bishop Philip Negm brought before the President the plight of the Christians in Iraq, and proposed that a Muslim Christian convention should be held in Egypt to tackle that topic, and that President Sisi should participate in it.
Bishop Krikor Coussa placed a request that a curriculum on ethics would soon be taught in schools to teach children the sublime, humanitarian values all religions honour. He reminded everyone present that the year 2015 marks the centenary of the Armenian massacre at the hands of the Turks, and invited the President to visit Armenia. Patriarch Theodoros II also extended an invitation to Pope Tawadros to visit Greece.
The meeting lasted for over an hour. At the end Pope Tawadros said, “we exchanged heart-felt courtesies and President Sisi asked to have a group photo taken, which we did.”
13 August 2014