‘Growing in friendship’

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 16 May 2023

The visit by Pope Tawadros II to the Vatican and the exchange of gifts with Pope Francis assert the amicable relationship between the Coptic and Catholic churches, reports Amira Hisham

Pope Tawadros II
Pope Tawadros II to the Vatican and the exchange of gifts with Pope Francis


Speaking to tens of thousands of Christian worshippers standing in adverse weather conditions, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II gave a speech calling for world peace during the General Audience at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, the first time the head of another church has delivered such an address.

The speech by the 118th pope was part of a visit by an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox delegation to the Vatican to mark 50 years of renewed relations between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox churches. In 1973 Egypt’s Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI signed the Joint Christological Declaration, ending a 15-century theological dispute.

The visit also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Day of Brotherly Love which the two churches have been celebrating annually since Pope Tawadros II had first visited the Vatican on 10 May 2013 to congratulate Pope Francis on his election. The pope returned the visit to Egypt in 2017.

At St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis referred to the 21 Christians who were killed in Libya in 2015— 20 Egyptian Copts and one Ghanaian Christian — announcing that they will be placed in the Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church as “a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two churches”.

“May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs, united with those of the Theotokos, continue to help our churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we can celebrate at the same altar and receive together the Body and Blood of the Saviour,”Pope Francis said.

The men were beheaded by Islamic State terrorists on the beach in Libya’s Sirte city. The terrorist organisation circulated a video showing the hostages in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on the sand, and praying as the terrorists standing behind them slit their throats. 

“Martyrs of the Coptic Church are ours too,” Pope Francis said.

During their audience, the patriarch of the See of St Mark Pope TawadrosIIpresented Pope Francis a reliquary of the slainmen. The reliquary, embellished with crosses designed in Coptic style, contained parts of the jumpsuits on which were written the names of those killed and three of the handcuffs used during their killing.

In reciprocation, Pope Francis gave the pope a relic of Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was slain in the early fourth century.

“All the visits exchanged between the Coptic and Catholic churches have aimed at drawing the two churches closer and spreading amicability,” said Father RafikGreish, media spokesman of the Egypt Council of Churches.

“The Coptic and Catholic churches have so much in common. It is normal for them to work together for peace and the good of the world. There is no longer a place for hardliners,” Father Rafik added.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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