Yesterday, Tuesday 9 May, saw Pope Tawadros II meet Queen Elizabeth II of the UK at Windsor Castle; the Queen is the supreme governor of the Church of England. British Ambassador to Cairo, John Casson, tweeted that both the Queen and the Pope have extensive experience and wisdom regarding coexistence in an ever-changing world. The 118th patriarch of the See of Alexandria is on his first visit to the UK.
An official Vespers service was held on 6 May at the Cathedral of St George in Hertfordshire, in honour of Pope Tawadros II. Attending the service were members of the House of Lords, the Diplomatic Corps, the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, humanitarian and advocacy organisations, and various ecumenical and inter-religious guests.
Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, gave an introductory welcome at the start of the official vespers service, in which he highlighted the role that the Coptic Orthodox Church plays in British society in its pastoral, ecumenical and official capacity. He thanked Pope Tawadros for his resilience amidst trying times in Egypt, saying: “We are blessed as Coptic Christians, because of the witness of Your Holiness and our sisters and brothers in Egypt. We are blessed because of your goodness, strength, faithfulness, and forgiving nature; and because of the life of Christ that is vibrant and alive in the midst of an often-increasing darkness.”
Persecution of Copts
Elaborating on the targeted persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Bishop Angaelos said: “We are being persecuted by some who do not want us to remain in the Middle East, but it is by no means the majority of Egypt. We have seen police officers, soldiers and simple men and women, not only Christians but Muslims, also dying. This targeting is of a cohesive way of life.”
He concluded by addressing the Pope directly: “You are an inspiration, role model, guide and father, and we thank you for joining us here, and give thanks to God for your continued witness.”
A message from Prime Minister Theresa May was read during the service, followed by a fraternal message from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, read by Bishop of Southwark Christopher Chessun. In his message, the Archbishop said: “Your Holiness, we live in testing times. The suffering of Christians in Egypt has been acute in recent weeks. I am grateful for the witness of steadfast bravery and hope that you have shown. Your fellow Christians are strengthened by your faithfulness to the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and by your unswerving commitment to the worship of the triune God.”
Addresses were also delivered by Archbishop John Sentamu of York, Ambassador of Egypt to the UK Nasser Kamel, Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Co-Chair of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
Love never fails
Pope Tawadros delivered his address in English. He thanked all those who spoke during the service, and said: “It is a great honour for me to be here today and a blessing for us all to gather together. This is a fulfilment of our Christian calling to keep the “unity of spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
“He spoke of the role Egypt has played historically in its contribution to Christianity, and linked Egypt’s rich history to the way many Coptic Christians remain steadfast in their faith today. In the same way Coptic Christians have given their lives in martyrdom throughout the ages,” he said, “they continue to be killed for their faith today. Both teachings and martyrdom have contributed to the preservation of the Christian Faith.”
The Pope spoke of the recent visit of Pope Francis to Egypt. “We were all blessed by the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt, and these visits, along with many others from sister Churches, make for continued good relations between our Churches, and also shed light on the rich history and ongoing role that Egypt has to play.”
Speaking more broadly on spiritual matters that affect our global humanity, His Holiness said: “The world today has become more hungry for love, especially as technology has uncovered every aspect of the human being…This dynamic has contributed to the increased violence and terrorism we experience in our world today.
“Together we must work to present the love of Christ for everyone, in any place, at any time. Therefore, we in Egypt depend on the words which Saint Paul, who instructs us that ‘Love never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:8). Our relations, whether inside or outside Egypt, must depend on the notion that ‘love never fails’ and we must present love in action.”
Meeting the young
Pope Tawadros, arrived at London on Friday 5 May on a pastoral visit. Anba Angaelos, , received him and is accompanying him throughout his stay. “This is a historic visit,” Bishop Angaelos said, “not only of the 118th Pope of Alexandria to the United Kingdom, but more personally for His Holiness Pope Tawadros, as his first engagement with his flock across Britain. For Coptic Christians here, it will be an opportunity to spend time with the head of their Church, and their spiritual father.
This has been a difficult year for Christians in Egypt with recent and ongoing attacks, and thus the visit will also be an opportunity for their brothers and sisters to hear directly from His Holiness about the situation there, and how they can provide greater support for them.”
Pope Tawadros’s programme has included visits to Coptic Orthodox parishes across the UK, during which he has officiated liturgical services and performed several consecrations, while generally taking time to engage with parishioners. Pope Tawadros is also engaging with various ecumenical, interfaith and official members of British society at a series of events planned throughout the course of his stay.
On the morning of 6 May Pope Tawadros addressed more than 600 young people from Coptic parishes across England. He talked to them on “The Cross and the joy it brings”. He was treated to presentations, both traditional and contemporary, from two youth choirs; also to video presentations outlining the various ministries that fall under the umbrella of ‘Coptic Youth Mission’. The Pope also officiated a Eucharistic service at the Cathedral of Saint George on Sunday 7 May 2017.
10 May 2017