Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II  (ANSA)

Pope to Tawadros II: May our friendship never stop growing

Pope Francis greets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and recalls the history of relations between Copts and Catholics as they strive to maintain a friendship that never stops growing.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis on Thursday addressed Coptic-Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and his delegation, who are in Rome to celebrate 50 years of Coptic and Catholic relationships, as well as the tenth anniversary of their first meeting in 2013.

In his speech, Pope Francis noted that "in the ecumenical journey, it is important to always look ahead". He advised that we always ask ourselves "how far do we still have to go?"

However, he continued, it is also necessary to always remember, especially in times of discouragment, "to rejoice in the path already travelled and to draw on the fervour of the pioneers who have gone before us."

Giving thanks and begging

Pope Francis noted that the purpose for the commemoration today is "giving thanks and begging". He highlighted that the meeting of their predecessors Paul VI and Shenouda III, which took place in Rome from 9 to 13 May 1973, "marked a historic milestone in relations between the See of St Peter and the See of St Mark".

It was the first meeting between a Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and a Bishop of Rome, he explained, adding that "it also marked the end of a theological dispute dating back to the Council of Chalcedon, thanks to the signing on 10 May 1973 of a memorable joint Christological declaration, which later served as an inspiration for similar agreements with other Eastern Orthodox Churches."

The joint commission

That meeting led to the creation of the International Joint Commission between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which in 1979 adopted the pioneering Principles to guide the search for unity between the two Churches.

The Principles, agreed by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Shenouda III,  stated in prophetic words that “the unity we envision does not mean the absorption of one by the other or the domination of one over the other. It is at the service of each one to help him or her better live out the specific gifts he or she has received from the Spirit of God."

Pope Francis then went on to highlight how the meeting of their predecessors "has never ceased to bear fruit in the journey of our Churches towards full communion", adding that "it is also in memory of that meeting in 1973 that Your Holiness met me here for the first time on 10 May 2013, a few months after your enthronement and a few weeks after the beginning of my pontificate. On that occasion, you proposed to celebrate every 10 May the 'Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics', which has been celebrated regularly by our Churches ever since."

Meaning of friendship

When speaking of friendship, the Pope recalled the famous 8th-century Coptic icon depicting the Lord resting His hand on the shoulder of His friend, the holy monk Mena of Egypt. "This icon," he said, "is sometimes called the ‘icon of friendship’ because the Lord seems to want to accompany His friend and walk with him."

In fact, the Pope continued, in this journey of friendship "we are also accompanied by the martyrs, who testify that 'no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends'."

He concluded by expressing his gratitude for the precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya on 15 February 2015, for which he said he "has no words". Pope Francis also noted that these martyrs of the Coptic-Orthodox Church would also be added to the Roman martyrology.

"May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs," the Pope concluded, "united with those of the Theotokos, continue to make our Churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we will be able to celebrate together at the same altar and commune with the same Body and Blood of the Saviour, 'that the world may believe'."

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11 May 2023, 10:01