Pope Francis’ General Audience on Wednesday morning, May 10, in Vatican City was different and not only because it was raining. Hundreds of people went to the General Audience and, among them, was another Pope that, on meeting the Catholic Pontiff, contrasted in their way of dressing: one in white (Pope Francis) and the other in black (Tawadros II).
Tawadros II is the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. It is one of the oldest Christian communities and also one of the closest to the Catholic Church among all the Orthodox world. It is also the largest Christian community in Egypt, a country of Muslim majority. Tawadros is also called with the title of Pope. Hence, it can be properly said that this Wednesday there were two Popes in Saint Peter’s Square.
The Holy Father wished to make it known that Tawadros II was in the Audience and also the reason for his presence, not only because he was granted a place next to Pope Francis, with a chair of the same type, but also because of what the Holy Father said:
Today I greet with great joy His Holiness Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, and the distinguished delegation accompanying him.
His Holiness Tawadros accepted my invitation to come to Rome to celebrate with me the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III in 1973. This was the first meeting between a Bishop of Rome and a Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which culminated with the signing of the memorable Joint Christological Declaration of May 10. In memory of this event, His Holiness Tawadros came to see me for the first time on May 10 ten years ago, a few months after his and my election, and he proposed to celebrate every May 10 the “Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship,” which we have celebrated every year since then.
We call one another on the telephone, we send greetings to each other and we continue being good friends. We don’t fight!
Dear friend and brother Tawadros, I thank you for having accepted my invitation in this double anniversary, and I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit will illuminate your visit to Rome, the important meetings you will hold here and, above all, our personal conversations. I thank you sincerely for your commitment in favour of the growing friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
Holiness, dear Bishops, and all friends, together with you I implore Almighty God, through the intercession of the Saints and Martyrs of the Coptic Church, to help us to grow in communion, in a single and holy bond of faith, hope and Christian love. And, speaking of the Martyrs of the Coptic Church, who are also ours, I want to remember the Martyrs of Libya’s beach, who became Martyrs a few years ago.
I ask all those present to pray to God that He will bless Pope Tawadros’ visit to Rome and protect the whole Coptic Orthodox Church. May this visit bring us closer to the blessed day in which we will be one in Christ. Thank you.
Pope Francis’ effusive greeting and presentation was responded to in Arabic by Pope Tawadros II:
I wish to transmit to you my congratulations, also in the name of the members of the Holy Synod and all the organisms of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and abroad, and to congratulate you on the tenth anniversary of your divine election as Pope and Bishop of Rome. I appreciate all that you have done during this time of service to the entire world in all fields, and I pray that Christ will keep you in full health and grant you the blessing of a long life. Christ has risen, He has truly risen!
Now I look at this place and I go back in my memory to ten years ago, on this same date, and I remember your dear affection in welcoming me, together with the delegation of the Coptic Church during my first visit, and how we spent a holy time with you, full of fraternal love with which you filled us.
This love has become a sign and a motto that we celebrate every year on the “Day of Fraternal Love.” We speak and write to each other to renew it every year, and it is a day that embodies the Christian spirit and the love that unites us in the service of God and in the service to our brothers in humanity, so that we realize in ourselves what beloved John said: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God: he who loves has been engendered by God and knows God” (1 John
We have chosen love, even if we go against the current of the greedy and egoistic world; we have accepted the challenge of the love that Christ asks of us and we will be true Christians and the world will be more human, because the whole world will know that God is love and that this is His loftiest name.
Holy Father, this date coincides also with the 50th anniversary of the visit of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to His Holiness Pope Paul VI, which makes it all the more important and influencing for the relations between our Churches.
I do not forget to thank you with so much joy for your precious visit to Egypt in 2017, which was a great blessing for the whole of Egypt when you said: “We are not alone in this exciting path that, as in life, is not always easy and clear. Through it God stimulates us and urges us with love to be henceforth living image of the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Let us walk together on the path of life, keeping present that “this is the promise He has made to us: eternal life (1 John 2:25), accompanying us and supporting us mutually with prayer in keeping with this promise. Despite the differences in our roots and affiliations, we are united by the love of Christ who dwells in us, and the host of our Fathers Apostles and Saints that surround and guide us.
We have come to you, on this blessed morning, from the land where the Apostle Mark preached, and his Chair was established in Alexandria to be one of the world’s most ancient Apostolic Sees, the land of Egypt. History and civilization say it belongs to nature: its father is history and its mother geography.
I have come to you from the ancient Coptic Church founded by a prophecy of the Book of the prophet Isaiah: “On that day there will be an altar in the land of Egypt and a wake on its border.” It was sanctified with the visit of the Holy Family, which blessed the land from East to West, North to South.
Egypt from which Christian monasticism was extended and established with its Saints Anthony, Macarius and Pachomius, inspiring the School of Alexandria, beacon of Theology in history, which was and continues to be a sacred place for prayer before God. And we believe it is kept not only in God’s hands but also in His Heart.
I am here, in the place where the Apostles Paul and Peter preached, and I rejoice to meet with you in this magnificent Square; I contemplate these columns that support this place, remembering God’s promise to the Angels of Philadelphia: “He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it (Revelation 3:12). I ask all of you to hold on to that promise, to overcome the evil of the world, with all its weaknesses, as our fathers taught us, that we be up to the measure of the responsibilities we have, and that we live as the sweet perfume of Christ in this world and receive His peace.
Let us walk in this world as He walked, let us sing with David in his Psalm: “My steps have held fast to thy paths, my feet have not slipped” (17:5) and let us invoke for the whole world a peace that transcends all minds, praying that it will reach everywhere and be the priority of leaders and peoples.
I pray with you today that God will listen to our prayers.
A catechesis of the Pope was planned on Saint Francis Xavier, witness of apostolic zeal, but Pope Francis decided not to pronounce it. As ZENIT has reported, on May 11 both ecclesial leaders will hold a private meeting and pray together. On Sunday, May 14, Tawadros will celebrate Mass with Rome’s Coptic Orthodox community in Saint John Lateran, the Pope’s Cathedral.