THE need for Christian
unity in the face of global challenges was a theme discussed during
a meeting in the Vatican at the end of last week between Pope
Francis and the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope
It was only the second
time that a Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria had visited the Vatican;
the first occasion was exactly 40 years ago, when Pope Shenouda III
held talks with Pope Paul VI.
Pope Tawadros said that
the Roman Catholic and Coptic Churches had worked together in the
Middle East and elsewhere "to make peace prevail. The most
important aim for both is the promotion of ecumenical dialogue in
order to get to the most pur-sued goal: unity." Working together to
"promote ecumenical dialogue . . . will be our mutual aim", he
He proposed that 10 May
each year should be observed as "a celebration of brotherly love
between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church".
Pope Francis said that he
recognised the difficulties faced by Egyptian Christians: "Let me
assure you that your efforts to build communion among believers in
Christ, and your lively interest in the future of your country and
the role of the Christian communities within Egyptian society, find
a deep echo in the heart of the successor of Peter, and of the
entire Catholic community."
Pope Francis also agreed
with Pope Tawadros that their two Churches should work towards a
common future, after centuries of mutual distrust: "Our persevering
prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in
mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards
Pope Francis spoke of "an
ecumenism of suffering: just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed
of strength and fertility for the Church, so, too, the sharing of
daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity. And
this also applies in a certain sense to the broader context of
society, and relations between Christians and non-Christians."
Also present at the talks
in Rome last week was Bishop Angaelos, of the Coptic Orthodox
Church in the UK. He said that it had been "a historic meeting" at
which "the two fathers of these ancient Apostolic Churches
committed themselves to working together for unity.
"While centuries have kept us apart, for a variety of reasons,
it is clear that continued ecumenical dialogue, and relations over
the past decade, have continued to bring us closer."