.- Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to Tawadros II to mark the “day of friendship” between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox, acknowledging their common commitment to being witnesses of holiness and defending the dignity of human life.
“Though we are still journeying towards the day when we will gather as one at the same eucharistic table, we are able even now to make visible the communion uniting us,” Pope Francis said in his May 10 letter to Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.
Pope Francis' message marked the third anniversary of his meeting with Tawadros in Rome; the day has become an annual celebration of fraternal love between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.
“Copts and Catholics can witness together to important values such as the holiness and dignity of every human life, the sanctity of marriage and family life, and respect for the creation entrusted to us by God,” Pope Francis wrote.
By learning to “bear each other’s burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions,” he continued, “then we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”
The Coptic Orthdox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers were historically considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
In the message, Pope Francis acknowledged the steps taken toward “reconciliation and friendship” between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox.
“After centuries of silence, misunderstanding and even hostility, Catholics and Copts increasingly are encountering one another, entering into dialogue, and cooperating together in proclaiming the Gospel and serving humanity.”
“In this renewed spirit of friendship, the Lord helps us to see that the bond uniting us is born of the same call and mission we received from the Father on the day of our baptism.”
The Pope appealed to the Holy Spirit to unite Catholics and Orthodox Copts “evermore in the bond of Christian love and guide us in our shared pilgrimage, in truth and charity, towards full communion.”
Pope Francis acknowledged his “generous hospitality” for the most recent meeting of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which took place in Cairo.
“I am certain that we share the ardent hope that this important dialogue may continue to progress and bear abundant fruits,” Francis said.
Pope Francis spoke of the Christian communities in Egypt – where more than 90 percent of Christians are Orthodox Copts – as well as throughout the Middle East, saying his “thoughts and prayers” are daily with those “experiencing great hardship and tragic situations.”
“May God our Father grant peace and consolation to all those who suffer, and inspire the international community to respond wisely and justly to such unprecedented violence,” he concluded.
“On this occasion that has rightly become known as the day of friendship between Copts and Catholics, I willingly exchange with Your Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace in Christ the Risen Lord.”
The May 2013 meeting between Francis and Tawadros marked the first visit of a Coptic Orthodox patriarch to Rome in 40 years. Shenouda III, Tawadros' predecessor, visited Bl. Paul VI in 1973, and St. John Paul II returned the visit to Egypt in 2000.