Wednesday 10 May saw the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, stand alongside the Roman Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, at the general audience in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square. Pope Tawadros is on an official visit to the Vatican from 9 to 12 May.
Pope Tawadros’s visit to the Vatican marks ten years on his first meeting with Pope Francis in Rome, and 50 years on the first meeting between a Catholic Pope, Paul VI, and a Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, since the great schism that divided the Churches at Chalcedon in 451.
Pope Tawadros was the first non-Roman Catholic Pope to speak in the general audience; in 2008, Armenian Catholicos Karekin II was with Pope Benedict XVI but did not speak.
As scheduled, St Peter’s successor was joined by St Mark’s successor at 9.00am Rome time at St Peter’s Square. It was a moving moment for the congregation that had gathered at at St Peter’s Sq. despite the heavy rain, and for Copts and Catholics following the moment around the world.
The two prelates exchanged greetings, following which Pope Tawadros addressed the crowd.
“Beloved brother, His Holiness Pope Francis,” said Pope Tawadros, delivering the standard Resurrection greeting: “Christ is risen, He is truly risen!”
The Coptic Pope conveyed the greetings of all the members of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod and the institutions of the Coptic Orthodox Church to Pope Francis on the tenth anniversary of his “Divine selection” as Catholic Pope and Bishop of Rome. “I value all that you have done to the whole world in all fields during this period of service,” Pope Tawadros said, “and I pray that Christ preserves you in full health and grants you the blessing of a long life.”
Our motto: Love
Pope Tawadros pointed out that 10 May coincides with the 50th anniversary of Pope Shenouda III’s visit to Pope Paul VI in the Vatican, “which makes today’s visit all the more important,” he said.
He recalled Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt in 2017, and his “precious” words: “We are not alone, in this interesting journey, which—as in life—is not always easy and clear, and through which the Lord urges us to move forward, and pushes us to be from now on a living picture of the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Pope Tawadros reminisced about his visit to the Vatican exactly ten years ago. “I look at this place,” he said, addressing Pope Francis, “and I go back ten years in memory. I remember your warm affection welcoming me and my companions with overflowing brotherly love.
“This love has become our motto, the love we celebrate every year on 10 May: the Day of Brotherly Love. We renew it with a much cherished telephone call.
“It is a day that embodies the Christian spirit and the love that brings us together in the service of God, and in the service of our brothers and sisters in humanity, so as to fulfill what St John the Beloved said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
“We have chosen love even if it means we go against the tide of a world that gets more greedy and more selfish. We have accepted the challenge of love that Christ asks of us. We will be true Christians and the world will become more humane, so that the whole world will know that God is Love, and that this is His highest attribute.”
“I come from St Mark’s Egypt…”
At St Peter’s Square, a proud Pope Tawadros said: “We have come to you from the land in which St Mark preached Christianity. His seat was established in Alexandria, one of the oldest Apostolic Sees in the world. I come to you from the Coptic Church which was established long ago, through a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: ‘In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.’ (Isaiah 19:19). Egypt was later blessed east, west, north and south by the visit of the Holy Family. Egypt is the land that gifted the whole world with the radiant blessing of Christian monasticism established at the hands of Saints Anthony, Macarius and Pachomius. Egypt has been and still is a sacred place for God, and we believe that it is blessed not only in God’s hand but in His heart too.”
“…To where St Peter and St Paul preached”
Pope Tawadros strongly proceeded: “I stand here where St Peter and St Paul preached, and I rejoice to observe in this great edifice and contemplate these pillars that bear this building, remembering the Lord’s promise to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia: ‘Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out’ (Rev 3:12).
“I ask you all to hold to this promise tightly, to overcome the evil of the world and all its weaknesses as the fathers taught us, and to live up to the responsibility we bear. Let us live in this world as the sweet fragrance of Christ, and gather for His peace.
“In this world, we walk as He walked, we chant with David the Psalmist: ‘Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not’ (Psalm 17:5).
“We ask the Lord to bestow on the world His peace that passes every understanding, praying that it reigns in all places and that it becomes the priority of all leaders and peoples.
“I pray with you today in confident hope that God will hear our prayers.”
Pope Francis warmly responded to Pope Tawadros’s words. “It is with great joy”, Pope Francis said, “that I greet today His Holiness Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark.
“His Holiness Pope Tawadros accepted my invitation to celebrate with me the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III in 1973. It was the first meeting between the Pope of the Catholic Church and the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which culminated in the signing of a joint Christological agreement on 10 May.
“In memory of this meeting, Pope Tawadros came to meet me for the first time on 10 May ten years ago, a few months after he and I were elected. He suggested that we celebrate the Day of Friendship between the Coptic Church and the Catholic Church on 10 May. We talk to each other on the phone, exchange greetings, to remain beloved brothers.
“Dear friend and brother Pope Tawadros, I thank you for accepting my invitation on this double anniversary, and I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit might illuminate your visit to Rome.
“I thank you from the heart, for your commitment to the growing friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church,” Pope Francis added.
Bond of faith, hope, love
Laying aside his prepared notes for a moment, Pope Francis looked over to Pope Tawadros, joking that although the pair speak every year on the phone, “we remain good brothers, and we never had a fight!”
“I pray to the Lord, through the intercession of the saints and martyrs of the Coptic Church, to help us grow in communion and in one holy bond, the bond of faith, hope and Christian love.”
Pope Francis then said: “Speaking of the martyrs of the Coptic Church who are also our martyrs, I would like to mention the martyrs who were martyred in Libya a few years ago .”
Pope Francis asked those present to pray to God to bless the visit of Pope Tawadros to Rome, and to protect the entire Coptic Orthodox Church. “May this visit bring us quickly closer to the blessed day when we will be one in Christ!” Pope Francis concluded.
Following the Papal audience, Pope Francis invited Pope Tawadros to say the final blessing. Pope Tawadros happily obliged, sending the congregation home with the words: “The love of God the Father and the grace of the Only Begotten Son, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and the fellowship and gift of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
10 May 2023
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