The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and spoke about the urgent need for unity among Christians in the Middle East.
“We must prepare our people for this very real and needed unity that we know and live, we must work quickly and seriously,” said Pope Tawadros II in May 10 remarks provided to CNA by his office.
His visit to the Vatican is significant because he leades Egypt’s largest Christian Church with ten million members, as well as historic, since the May 9-13 trip is the first to Rome in 40 years.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III, Tawadros II’s predecessor, visited Pope Paul VI in May 1973 and Pope John Paul II returned the visit to Egypt in 2000.
Coptic Pope Tawadros was elected to succeed Shenouda III in Nov. 2012.
“The rising of Islamic parties in countries like Egypt and Syria means Christians are now feeling they are second or third class citizens,” said Father Rafic Greiche, director of the press office for the Catholic Church in Egypt.
“We Egyptian Christians want our brothers of all world churches to help us, to pray for us and to be real brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ,” he told CNA on May 10 in Rome.
He noted that since the Egyptian uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, “nothing changed for Christians and normal modern Muslims.”
“People are getting poorer, the middle class is getting poorer and homeless, and there is no work or tourism,” said Fr. Greiche.
“So we hope our brothers will not help us with money, but with solidarity and that they take our message out to their governments to feel all Christians worldwide are one heart,” he added.
Pope Tawadros prayed with Pope Francis for about 20 minutes after their 15-minute meeting in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“The most important aim for both the Catholic and Coptic Churches is the promotion of ecumenical dialogue in order to get to the most pursued goal, unity,” Pope Tawadros said in his remarks to Pope Francis.
He said he wished “the excellent relationships between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic may become stronger and more prosperous.”
Pope Tawadros also invited Pope Francis to visit Egypt and suggested that from today forward the two Churches should observe May 10 as “a celebration of brotherly love between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.”
Pope Francis answered him assuring him of his prayers and invoking the protection of the apostles Saints Peter and Mark, who established the two Churches.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” Pope Francis said, quoting St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
“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 the Egyptian society find a deep echo in the heart of the Successor of Peter and of the entire Catholic community,” he added.
Pope Francis noted that “the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity.”
“From shared suffering can blossom forth forgiveness and reconciliation, with God’s help,” he pointed out.
Before their meeting the Egyptian leader visited the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and other Roman Curia departments.