Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II made an “exceptional” trip on Thursday to Jerusalem through Tel Aviv to head the funeral prayer for Metropolitan Archbishop Abraham of Jerusalem and the Near East.
The visit marks the first by a Coptic pope to the Holy Land since 1967.
Metropolitan Archbishop Abraham, considered to be the second most important figure following the Pope in the Coptic Holy Synod, passed away on Wednesday. He headed the small Coptic diocese in Jersusalem.
The late Pope Shenouda III issued a papal ban on pilgrimages to Israel in 1979, a policy that remains in place today as a clear stance against the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.
Spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church Father Boules Halim told Ahram Online that this is an "exceptional situation," stressing that the stance of the Coptic Orthodox Church on visiting Jerusalem has not changed.
"The stance of the Coptic Orthdox Church concerning travelling to the Holy Lands will always remain the same. The pope's visit came as an exception," says Halim.
According to Halim, Tawadros II will not make any visits while in Jerusalem, and he will return to Cairo immediately following the funeral prayers.
Late Pope Shenouda III was staunchly anti-Zionist and opposed the normalisation of relations with Israel, in the name of Arab nationalism. Shenouda, who passed away in 2012, never paid a visit to the Holy Land during his 41 years as head of the Coptic church.
However, 2015 has witnessed an increase in the numbers of Coptic pilgrims to Jerusalem during Easter week, despite the church's travel ban.
There are no official travel restrictions in place for Egyptian citizens travelling to Israel.