Pope Tawadros II, “Pope of love and peace” as he became known on his recent visit to the Vatican, concluded his official Vatican visit on Friday 12 May, following which he embarked on pastoral visits to the Copts of Rome, Turin, Milan, and Austria.
Hand the love over to children
On 12 May, the Pope visited the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Eastern [Catholic] Churches where he was received by its Prefect Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti. The meeting, which was attended by Coptic clergy accompanying Pope Tawadros and members of the Dicastery, lasted for 90 minutes. Cardinal Gurgerotti spoke of the history of the Eastern Churches and the dialogue between the Catholic and Coptic Churches during the last 50 years.
Pope Tawadros also spoke of the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church which was founded at the hands of St Mark, the difficulties it faced throughout the ages, and the perpetual work of God’s hands.
The Pope and his companions stressed that the depth of the current love between the Catholic and Coptic Churches should be handed over to newer generations, for them to learn that love is the basis of unity, and that it alone can accommodate diversity and difference.
Pope Tawadros then met Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church. The Pope and Cardinal shared the rich synodal experiences of their respective Churches, with Cardinal Grech explaining that the Catholic Church’s path is based on communion, participation, and mission. Pope Tawadros gave a brief on the Coptic Orthodox Church whose congregation includes 15 million in Egypt and 2 million in the Diaspora. He talked of Coptic Sunday Schools, and weekly youth and family meetings.
The “three pyramids” of the Coptic Church, the Pope said, are “theological teaching, starting with the preaching of St Mark; martyrdom, the Coptic Church is famous as the Church of the Martyrs; and Christian monasticism which took off at the hands of St Anthony and spread to the whole world.”
Metropolitan Anba Danial, Secretary-General of the Coptic Orthodox Synod, explained how the 135-member Synod works through its various committees.
Where St Paul was beheaded
The day before, 11 May, had seen Pope Tawadros visit the Abbey of the Three Fountains in Rome. The abbey is built on the spot where it is believed that St Paul was beheaded on orders of Emperor Nero; St Paul’s head is said to have struck the earth in three different places at which fountains sprang.
As he was warmly welcomed at the Abbey, the Pope spoke of St Paul “who taught us so much about our Christian faith, and who spoke so warmly of love when he wrote: ‘For Christ’s love compels us’ in 2Corinthians 5:14; also in his legendary tribute to love in 1Corinthians 13 that concluded with ‘Love never fails’.”
The Pope then paid a visit to the nearby convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus, where he expressed his joy at the convent church and the handcrafts made by the nuns. The nuns reciprocated by singing hymns of joy as they bid him goodbye.
A visit to the Colosseum took the Pope to the place notorious for the bloodshed of Christians during the eras of persecution in the early Christian centuries, where he was given a guided tour.
“We work together”
Once his official visit to the Vatican ended on 12 May, Pope Tawadros and his accompanying delegation of Coptic clergy headed to the Egyptian Embassy in Rome where he was received by the Egyptian Ambassador Bassam Rady and the Embassy staff. During a dinner held in the Pope’s honour and attended by Mahmoud Talaat, Egypt’s Ambassador to the Vatican and by senior Italian officials, Mr Rady said he was lucky and honoured to have had the opportunity of meeting Pope Tawadros several times and to have experienced in him first hand love and peace. “You are an honourable front to Egypt,” Mr Rady said, “and our Embassy is honoured by your visit.”
The Pope thanked Mr Rady, and said: “We all work together with President Sisi for the benefit of our new republic in Egypt. The President has waged two battles: the first was against the terrorism that devastated Egypt, and in that he was successful. The second is a battle for development, through the mega projects the State is implementing. Major among them is the New Administrative Capital which took off on a spiritual note by establishing the largest mosque and church in the Middle East.”
The following day, Saturday 13 May, Pope Tawadros visited the Egyptian Embassy in Vatican City, Ambassador Mahmoud Talaat received him together with the Embassy’s senior staff.
During a lunch banquet held in honour of the Pope, and attended by Mr Rady, Ambassador Talaat gave a short word in which he lauded the “Pope who emanates peace and love in a world of conflict and war.”
Long, long way to unity
Pope Tawadros’s pastoral visit to Italy began with Vespers incense service on the evening of Saturday 13 May at the Archbasilca of St John Lateran in Rome, which the Coptic congregation filled every inch of.
Anba Barnaba, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Torino and Roma gave a word in which he said that Pope Tawadros had deservedly earned the title ‘Pope of love and peace’. “The overflowing brotherly love between him and Pope Francis,” Anba Barnaba said, “led to his being the first Pope to participate in a Catholic Pope’s weekly general audience, and the first non-Catholic to celebrate Mass in this Basilica which is one of four churches where Mass can only be celebrated by the Catholic Pope. This was a gesture of practical love offered to us by the Catholic Church.”
Pope Tawadros thanked Anba Barnaba and reiterated his joy at the Coptic Catholic rapprochement following 1500 years of schism in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. “Yet the path to unity is a long, long one,” he said, “It starts with mutual love, continues with doctrinal and historical studies, and proceeds to dialogue. But first and foremost, we need prayer because prayer makes miracles and makes us one in Christ. This is a long, arduous path, and the Holy Spirit supports us through it.”
The Pope went on to give a sermon on the topic of “Joy” which, he said, can only be attained through Jesus Christ by emulating His example as in “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out, till he Has brought justice through to victory” (Matt 12: 18-20).
Following the sermon, the Pope blessed the congregation one by one, reassuring them, and taking selfies with them.
“We have chosen love”
On Sunday 14 May, the fourth Sunday in the Khamaseen, literally, the “Fifty” days of rejoicing that extend from the Resurrection to the Pentecost, Pope Tawadros celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of St John Lateran. Again, the huge cathedral was chockfull of the Coptic congregation who came from far and wide to pray with their Pope.
Present were Egyptian Ambassadors Mr Rady and Mr Talaat; a number of senior diplomats in Rome; Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, who was representing Pope Francis; and representatives of Christian sects in Rome.
Ambassador Rady gave a word in which he praised Pope Tawadros’s wisdom and public patriotic role [against extremist religious thought and actions that seek to break Egypt up along Coptic / Muslim dividing lines]. Mr Rady especially focused on the Pope’s words during the general audience at St Peter’s Square on Wednesday 10 May: “We have chosen love, even if it means we go against the tide in an increasingly selfish and greedy world. So that the world may know that God is Love, and that love is the most supreme of His attributes.”
Bishop Farrel welcomed Pope Tawadros as the first time a patriarch of the See of St Mark celebrated Mass at the Archbasilica of St John Lateran, which is exclusively that of the Bishop of Rome (the Catholic Pope). He said the presence of Pope Tawadros there that day was “an honour and a joy”. It brought together the See of St Peter and the See of St Mark, he said. “Even if we cannot today be with you in the same communion of Christ’s flesh and blood, we will be in spiritual communion with you,” he said.
In his sermon during Mass, Pope Tawadros spoke of the Bible reading of the day: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believes in me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). He spoke of light in a spiritual context, as illumination for the soul.
Christ is a light to the world, the Pope said, through His life on earth, because He was alone the One without sin, who saved humans from sin and all spiritual illness. His words and teachings, the Pope said, centred on love to God and fellow humans, as light pushing away all darkness of hate. His deeds and miracles too, Pope Tawadros stressed, were actions of healing light in the everyday life darkened by illness or difficulty of those who followed Him.
“We too,” he said, “experience his miracles today, lighting up our dark moments. His light illuminates our spirits, giving us peace and purity of heart.”
17 May 2023
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