By Aleteia –
Pope Francis did not deliver his traditional Wednesday morning catechesis but let Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speak to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on May 10, 2023. Pope Francis welcomed the arrival of the Patriarch of Alexandria in Rome as a sign of the “friendship” between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
It was a very special audience that took place in St. Peter’s Square. Under a light rain, the Pope made his traditional tour in the popemobile to greet the pilgrims who came to listen to him. But before going to his seat, he went to meet Patriarch Tawadros II at the foot of St. Peter’s Basilica. Smiling, the two religious leaders embraced each other, before the Argentinean Pope kissed Tawadros’ pectoral cross – as he often does when he meets an Orthodox representative, as a sign of brotherhood.
Together, the Pope and the Coptic Patriarch took their identical seats on the platform in front of St. Peter’s Square. For the first time since the introduction of weekly catecheses, a Pope allowed his guest to speak.
“I stand here, in the place where Paul and Peter the Apostles preached, and I am delighted to meet you in this beautiful square,” said the Coptic patriarch, who recalled his first visit to Rome in 2013, as well as Francis’ “precious visit” to Egypt in 2017.
“Despite the differences in our roots and belongings, we are united by the love of Christ that dwells in us,” the Patriarch said, before speaking of Egypt, a land evangelized by St. Mark and from which “Christian monasticism spread and established itself with its saints, Anthony, Macarius and Pachomius, inspiring the school of Alexandria, a beacon of theology in history.”
“I pray that Christ preserves you in full health and grants you the blessing of a long life,” the Coptic Patriarch also wished, saluting the 10 years of the Argentinean’s pontificate.
The memory of the martyrs of Libya
Pope Francis then spoke briefly, recalling that the Coptic Patriarch came to Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III, the first between a bishop of Rome and a patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
This meeting was marked by “the signing of a memorable Christological declaration” on May 10, 1973, said the Pope. This declaration put an end to the controversy surrounding the Council of Chalcedon of 451, which had led to a rupture between Rome and many Eastern Churches. The declaration affirmed that the faithful share the same faith in Christ, true God and true man.
“In memory of this event, Tawadros came to see me for the first time on May 10 — 10 years ago, a few months after his election and mine, and proposed to celebrate every May 10 a ‘Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship,’” added the Argentine pontiff.
“We have celebrated every year since that time,” the Pope said. “We call each other on the phone, send greetings, and remain good brothers, we do not quarrel!”
Before concluding, the Pope said he was praying for “the important meetings” that will take place in Rome, “and in particular our personal conversations.”
Tomorrow, the Patriarch will be received by the Pope in a private audience with his delegation. The two church leaders are also expected to have a time of prayer in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel.
During these meetings, it is likely that the theme of the ecumenism of blood will be put forward, confided to I.MEDIA the Dominican Father Hyacinthe Destivelle, official of the dicastery for the Promotion of the Christian unity.
During the audience, the head of the Catholic Church also mentioned the martyrs of the Coptic Church, remembering especially the Coptic Orthodox Christians murdered by men of the Islamic State organization on a beach in Libya in 2015.
And speaking of martyrs of the Coptic Church, who are also ours, I want to remember the martyrs on the Libyan beach, who were made martyrs a few years ago.
To conclude the meeting, the Pope and the Patriarch recited the Our Father with the crowd. Finally, Pope Francis blessed the crowd, and then invited Tawadros II to also give his blessing.