(ZENIT News / Rome, 05.11.2023).- Held on Thursday morning, May 11, in the context of the Coptic-Orthodox Patriarch’s visit to Rome, was a private meeting between Pope Francis and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria. The meeting commemorated the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Saint Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III in 1973.
After a private conversation, both leaders introduced their Delegations and then the exchange of gifts took place. There was a surprise at this point: Patriarch Tawadros gave Pope Francis relics of some Copts murdered in Libya on February 15, 2015.
In this connection, the Pontiff said in his address:
“On this path of friendship, the martyrs also accompany us, who witness that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). I have no words to express my gratitude for the precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs murdered in Libya on February 15, 2015. These martyrs were baptized not only with water and the Spirit but also with blood, blood that is seed of unity for all followers of Christ. I am pleased to announce today that, with the consent of His Holiness, these 21 martyrs will be included in the Roman Martyrology as sign of the spiritual communion that unites our Churches.
May the prayers of the Coptic Martyrs, united to those of the Theotokos, continue to make the friendship grow between our Churches, until the blessed day in which we will be able to celebrate together at the same altar and to commune with the very Body and the very Blood of the Saviour, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
However, it was not the only topic addressed by Pope Francis in his speech. He began by thanking the Patriarch “for accepting my invitation to commemorate together the jubilee of this historic event in 1973, as well as the 10th anniversary of our first meeting in 2013. The Holy Father also stressed that “in the ecumenical path, it is important to always look forward. Cultivating in our hearts a healthy impatience and an ardent desire of unity, we must be as the Apostle Paul, “straining forward to what lies ahead” (cf. Philippians 3:13) and ask ourselves continually: “Quanta est nobis via?” How far do we yet have to go? However, it’s also necessary to remember, especially in moments of discouragement, to rejoice in the path already travelled and to take advantage of the fervour of the pioneers who have preceded us. To look forward and to remember. However, without a doubt, it is even more our duty to look up, to thank the Lord for the steps we have taken and to implore that He grant us the gift of our longed for unity.”
The Pontiff focused his address on thanksgiving and supplication. “This is the objective of our commemoration today. Our Predecessors’ meeting, which took place in Rome from May 9-13, 1973, marked a historic milestone in the relations between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. It was the first meeting between a Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and a Bishop of Rome. It also marked the end of a theological dispute, which went back to the Council of Chalcedon, thanks to the signing, on May 10, 1973, of a memorable Joint Christological Declaration, which later served as inspiration for similar agreements with other Oriental Orthodox Churches.”
And, referring to the Mixed International Commission between both Churches, the Pontiff continued: “The meeting led to the creation of the Mixed International Commission between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which in 1979 adopted the first principles to guide the search for unity between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, signed by Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Shenouda III, which affirmed with prophetic words that ‘the unity we foresee 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 each live better the specific gifts it has received from the Spirit of God.”
“This Mixed Commission then smoothed the path for the birth of a fruitful theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which held its first meeting in 2004 in Cairo, sponsored by His Holiness Shenouda. I thank the Coptic Orthodox Church for its commitment to this theological dialogue. I also thank His Holiness for the fraternal care he continues to give the Coptic Catholic Church, a closeness that has found a praiseworthy expression in the creation of the National Council of Christian Churches of Egypt.”
Pope Francis pointed out that “the meeting of our illustrious Predecessors has not ceased to bear fruit in the path of our Churches towards full communion. It is also in memory of that meeting of 1973 that His Holiness met me here for the first time on May 10, 2013, a few months after his enthronement and a few weeks after the beginning of my Pontificate. On that occasion, you proposed to celebrate every May 10 the “Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics,” which since then our Churches celebrate punctually.
Finally, referring to the topic of friendship, Pope Francis said: “Speaking of friendship, there comes to mind the famous Coptic icon of the 8th century, which represents the Lord placing His hand on His friend’s shoulder, the holy monk Mena of Egypt. This icon is called sometimes the “icon of friendship,” because the Lord seems to want to accompany His friend and walk with him. Likewise, the bonds of friendship between our Churches sink their roots in the friendship of Jesus Christ Himself with all His disciples, whom He calls “friends” (cf. John 15:15), and those He accompanies on their way, as He did with the pilgrims of Emmaus.”
After Tawadros’ address, the two Christian leaders went to the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace for common prayer.