The Coptic congregation in Milan and Venice were overjoyed to welcome among them Pope Tawadros II who paid them a pastoral visit last week.
The Pope arrived at Malpensa International Airport in Milan on the afternoon of Tuesday 10 October 2023, to begin his visit. He was received at the airport by Ambassador Manal Abdel Dayem, Egypt’s Consul-General in Milan, and Sameh Sayed, Director-General of EgyptAir in Milan.
On hand to welcome the Pope were also Bishop Antonio of Milan and Abbot of the Monastery of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite in Milan; and Bishop Luca of the French sector of Switzerland and Southern France.
The Pope was handed a bouquet of roses by Coptic child from Milan, who appeared thrilled to undertake that task.
The Pope was accompanied by Anba Danial, Metropolitan of Maadi and Secretary of the Holy Synod; Anba Gabriel, Bishop of Beni Sweif); Anba Yulius, General Bishop of Old Cairo and the Bishopric of Services; and Father Kyrillos Anba Bishoy, Manager of the Papal Office.
Priests and their wives
At the outset of his visit to Milan, Pope Tawadros had a meeting with the priests of the Diocese of Milan and their wives, at the Monastery of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite in Milan. Bishop Antonio and Bishop Luca attended, as did the delegation from Egypt accompanying the Pope.
Pope Tawadros started off by praising the family spirit that was so prominent among the Copts of the Diocese of Milan. He gave a word about “longing for God”, stressing the profound meaning in the first part of the Prayer of the Ninth Hour, during which the worshipper calls on the Holy Spirit to “Sanctify my soul … Enlighten my Understanding … Allow me to be a partaker of Your life-giving mysteries … So that when I taste of Your benevolences … I offer You praise without lukewarmness … Longing for Your splendor above all things”.
To reach the sixth point, Pope Tawadros said, one must progress through the previous five. He quoted Psalm 42. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.”
The Pope then answered the audience’s questions, offered them souvenir gifts, and took photos with the priests and their families and children.
Milan: great name in Christian history
Pope Tawadros received Monsignor Franco Agence, Deputy Archbishop of Milan, accompanied by a delegation from the Catholic Church.
The Pope welcomed his guests, noting Milan’s great name in Christian history, citing St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in 374 – 397, whose writings played a major role in the repentance of Saint Augustine (354 – 430). He mentioned Anba Kyrillos (1952 – 2017), previous Coptic Metropolitan of Milan, as an extension of Saint Ambrose in his writings and service.
Pope Tawadros spoke about Egypt’s Christian history, its martyrs of faith and its Christian monastic movement founded at the hands of Saint Anthony the Great. “As the largest Church in the Middle East, we bear witness to Christ in Egypt where I would be happy to welcome you all.”
Bishop Franco expressed his appreciation of the testimony of the Coptic Church, saying: “You always encourage us, especially regarding youth.” Father Luca, a member of the Catholic Church delegation, pointed out that the last six years have witnessed extensive prayers in Milan for the guidance of the Holy Spirit regarding societal changes contrary to Christian principles, which are taking hold in western communities. He said to Pope Tawadros: “Your Holiness spoke about St Ambrose, who was a judge and left his job, devoting himself to service. We are proud to be Christians of Saint Ambrose.
“We see in the Coptic Church a positive energy for spreading the faith. We strive for the spirit of the Council of Nicaea to always be amongst us, as we are the sons of the Council of Nicaea.”
Bishop Franco presented Pope Tawadros with the relics of St Augustine, St Ambrose and St Victor. Pope Tawadros reciprocated with gifting Bishop Franco a book and a film about the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt.
Officials, and persons with disabilities
Pope Tawadros also received Manal Abdel-Dayem, Consul-General of Egypt in Milan, who was accompanied by senior officials from the Egyptian Consulate. A friendly dialogue took place, during which the role of the Egyptian community in Milan, especially the Copts, in contributing to the wider Italian community was highlighted. The Pope stressed that contribution to national duty is an obligation for every Egyptian.
Pope Tawadros concluded his activities for the day by meeting a group of persons with disabilities from the congregation of Milan. He spoke with them individually and took souvenir photographs with them.
”As he watches from Heaven”
In Corvetto, Milan, Pope Tawadros II consecrated on 12 October the Church of the Holy Virgin and St Joseph of Arimathea.
Upon his arrival at the church, the Pope unveiled a memorial plaque dating the consecration. Bishop Antonio and Bishop Luca were there, as was the Cairo delegation accompanying the Pope, and Milan Coptic clergy and monks.
The Pope’s procession then entered the church to a warm welcome from Milan’s congregation. He consecrated the church’s main altar, anointing it in the name of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph of Arimathea, the northern altar in the name of St Veronica, the southern altar in the name of Saint John the Beloved, the icon of the Pantocrator and the icons on the iconstasis. The baptismal font was consecrated in the name of St John the Baptist.
The altar and icons of the church attached to the main church, which bears the name of the Church of the Heavenly Host, were also consecrated by the Pope, its. He baptised six children, and presided over Divine Liturgy. Before he started his sermon, Pope Tawadros thanked Bishop Antonio for his warm hospitality, adding: “We will never forget the founder of this diocese, Metropolitan Kyrillos, who is now rejoicing as he watches over you in heaven.”
How can a person be wise?
The sermon focused on the Bible reading of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt 25). “How can a person be wise? he asked. He pointed out that the essence of the parable is that a person who thinks he or she is close to Christ, might loses the opportunity God gives him, which is time and age. So it is important that we make wise use of our time and life, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). This can be achieved, he said by adhering to and connecting with Christ through prayer, adhering to the Holy Bible as the living word of God, and adhering to the Church through the Holy Sacraments.
At the conclusion of Mass, the Pope blessed the people, met them, shook hands with each of them, and presented them with souvenir gifts.
In a meeting with the servants of the Diocese of Milan, Pope Tawadros tackled the topic of “Service”. Reading the last chapter of St Paul’s second Epistle to Timothy, he focused on the commandments given by the teacher to his disciple: “Proclaim the Word, rebuke acts of sin, preach repentance. There will come a time, St Paul said, ‘when they will not endure sound doctrine … they will turn aside to fables’. We see this today,” the Pope said, “ in the modern-day ‘fables’ of deviant sexuality and atheism.
“‘But you’: this is an obligation for every servant, ‘be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry’.”
The Pope defined service as a talent gifted by God, a responsibility one will be accountable for, and an ultimate source of love and joy.
A servant, the Pope explained, needs to display multi-faceted qualities: to be committed, encouraging, outgoing and happy, in short: the image of Christ.
The Pope answered the servants’ questions, and concluded the meeting with a closing prayer and blessing.
St Anianos the Shoemaker
On Saturday 14 October, the Pope left Milan for Venice. Arriving in the afternoon, he started his visit by opening the Coptic Cathedral of St Mark, which he would consecrate the following day. As the church bells chimed to welcome Pope Tawadros, and in attendance of the delegation that accompanied him from Egypt, and ten Coptic Orthodox bishops of dioceses in Europe, the Pope unveiled a marble plaque that cites the date of the opening and consecration of the cathedral; he had already been handed welcome flowers by children.
Pope Tawadros opened the doors of the cathedral to the joyful Coptic tune Khen Efran chanted by the clergy and congregation present as he stepped in to lead Vespers incense prayers and meet the congregation
Pope Tawadros received Francesco Moraglia, Catholic Patriarch of Venice, who came to congratulate the Coptic Pope on opening the new cathedral. The meeting was cordial and friendly, and Patriarch Moraglia gifted Pope Tawadros with relics of St Anianos the Shoemaker who succeeded St Mark as Coptic Patriarch in the first AD century; St Mark was martyred in Alexandria in 68AD.
Once Vespers service was over, the Pope met the young Coptic men and women of the diocese of Venice.
St Mark’s: Coptic patriarchate in Europe
Sunday morning 15 October 2023, Pope Tawadros officiated Mass at the newly opened St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Venice. He declared the Cathedral will act as Coptic patriarchate in Europe.
Participating in the consecration ceremony during Mass was Anba Danial, Metropolitan of Maadi, and Secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, together with 13 Coptic bishops, as well as priests from Egypt, central Europe, London, Austria, and Milan.
The main altar was consecrated in the name of St Mark, the northern altar in the name of St Shenouda the Archimandrite, and the southern altar in the name of St Anba Abra’am. The Pope anointed the icon of the Pantocrator, the icons on the iconostasis, and all the icons in the nave.
The Pope explained to the congregation in detail the ritual of consecration which involves specific prayers and anointment with holy oil, pointing out that the day of consecration marks the “birthday” of a church. “Today, 15 October,” he said, “marks the birthday of this Cathedral, and also the birthday of the late Anba Kyrillos, Bishop of Milan, who founded it. Anba Antonio, current Bishop of Milan; and Anba Giovanni, Bishop of five cities in central Europe and Supervisor of this Cathedral; are both extending the work and spirit of Anba Kyrillos.”
The Pope baptised three children, and gave a sermon on the work of God in the life of humans which, he said, is served by faith and the communion of the faithful in church.
Among the highlights of the Pope’s visit were his meetings with the young people of the dioceses of Milan and Venice. The meetings saw the Pope answer their questions which, predictably, centred on modern-day trends in society and the Church.
In reply to a question on why the Coptic Church does not ordain women priests, the Pope explained that “when God created man and woman, he endowed both with specific characteristics and entrusted them with certain functions. In this, they complement each other, even as they both are equally valuable. If we look at the human body, can we say that the liver is superior or inferior to a lung? Yet each is different, indispensable, and neither can perform the function of the other.
“When Jesus became God Incarnate, He was born of the Holy Virgin; when he chose disciples to preach and spread the word, they were all men. Our Church still adheres to that.”
The Pope explained that other Churches claim Biblical backing for ordaining women, and have their reasons to do so, but these do not apply to the Coptic Church.
A young person posed the question: Is friendship with an atheist considered a sin? To which Pope Tawadros replied that we are required by Christ to love everyone. But, he said, we should love the person but not his deeds if they are sinful. “You ought to love atheists, but not atheism,” he said.
A similar question was posed concerning those who are homosexual or LGBTQ. Again, the Pope said we should love them and care for their feelings, but not emulate their behaviour. “Be very careful,” he said, “that you do not fall. You can be friends with a drug addict, but be very cautious you do not take up drugs.”
Another young man said: “When I hear that the Church rejects LGBTQ, I pity those who belong to it. I do not agree that the Church should reject it. Am I right?”
“Homosexuality,” the Pope said, “is rejected in the Bible, very explicitly so in Genesis, Romans, and Corinthians. Unless it is a genetic condition, the Church sees it as deviance, which then requires repentance; or as a physical disorder which would then require treatment. But if the Bible says it is sinful, the Church cannot say otherwise. Your pity should be directed at gently helping LGBTQs not at condoning their behaviour.”
Seminar of Europe’s Coptic bishops
At the Coptic cathedral of St Mark in Venice, Pope Tawadros presided over the seminar of Europe’s Coptic bishops on the evening of 15 October. Participating were members of the secretariat of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, as well as 11 out of the 14 Coptic bishops of dioceses in Europe; three were not able to participate for health reasons.
The seminar tackled the topic of “Ministry of the Coptic Church in European countries”, holding three sessions that focused on “Facts, data and statistics”, “Challenges and Obstacles”, “Hopes and aspirations”, and “Collaboration”.
17 October 2023