Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II did not visit Jerusalem with an Israeli visa, but through coordination with the Palestinian Authority, the Coptic Orthodox Church said in an official statement on Sunday following criticism of the Pope’s visit.
"Pope Tawadros did not meet with any Palestinian or Israeli officials during his visit to Jerusalem," the Coptic Orthodox Church said.
The Pope 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, the first by a Coptic pope to the holy land since 1967, sparked controversy with some portraying the visit as “normalisation with Israel.”
"There is no point for speculation and promotion of the idea of normalising with Israel. The Church's course is clear: we don’t bring religion into politics, or politics into religion, therefore the whole situation should not be assumed to be political," the statement read in response to media criticism.
The Church said that Metropolitan Archbishop Abraham's body was supposed to arrive in Egypt so Pope Tawadros could head the funeral prayers, but Archbishop Abraham's will stated that he wished to be buried in Jerusalem.
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.
"If it wasn't for Archbishop Abraham's will, Pope Tawadros wouldn't have travelled to Jerusalem."
The Church added that he did not travel to Jerusalem through Jordan due to security procedures that he has no hand in.
The Church said that its stance remains the same and will never change, asserting that there will be no visit to Jerusalem except with 'Egyptians hand in hand.’
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.
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.
Despite the church's travel ban, 2015 has witnessed an increase in the numbers of Coptic pilgrims to Jerusalem during Easter week.
There are no official travel restrictions in place for Egyptian citizens travelling to Israel.