Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Historic papal visit

Michael Adel on Pope Tawadros II’s first visit to Japan, and his tour of Australia


Historic papal visit
Historic papal visit

On 26 August Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and patriarch of St Mark, was met by Japanese officials and members of Japan’s Arab communities at the beginning of the first ever visit by a Coptic patriarch to the country.

Pope Tawadros II inaugurated the Church of the Virgin Mary and St Mark in Osaka. The first Coptic church in Japan, it was established last year by the Coptic bishop of Sydney to serve Egyptian, Ethiopian and other Orthodox Christians.

Following the inauguration the pope met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Tawadros presented Kono with a painting of the Holy Family during their flight to Egypt. In the background are the Nile, the Pyramids and the Egyptian desert in which Christian monasticism first emerged.

“The Holy Family visited Egypt in the first century AD. It blessed our country, and Egypt became the only country visited by Christ. It was in Egypt that the original Alexandrian theological seminary was founded, becoming a centre for true Orthodox instruction,” said the pope.

Tawadros stressed that the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Egypt is strong and deep and attempts by extremist groups to sow discord between them and destroy Egyptian unity through violence targeting Christians were destined to fail.

In an interview on Asahi TV Tawadros said terrorist organisations — “purveyors of evil” — perpetuate their crimes behind a religious façade.

Noting that Egypt has three Christian churches — the Coptic Orthodox, the Catholic and the Anglican churches — he said: “There are some differences between us but there are immutable basics. The three churches have three things in common: a single gospel, faith in Christ and striving to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Pope Tawadros’ message in Japan comprised three parts. The first, under the heading “Love is everywhere”, stressed that the church opened its arms to everyone. The second part, the “Mother Church”, highlighted how the church searched for and looked after its children in Egypt and every other country, bringing them closer to God. The third message he conveyed was that, like its founder St Mark, the Coptic Church was active, dynamic and persevering.

From Japan Pope Tawadros flew to Australia for a 10-day visit that was covered closely by the Australian press. Met on arrival by representatives of the Australian Coptic community, the third largest Coptic community outside of Egypt, the pope’s itinerary includes visits to Coptic churches and schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

The pope expressed his gratitude to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the good relations Australia maintains with Egypt and praised the Australians’ spirit of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Asked about same-sex marriage, a subject of controversy in Australia at the moment, the pope rejected the notion.

“This type of marriage is rejected by the Christian faith, by the faithful and by God,” he said.

Turning to Egypt, he said: “We need to build a new Egypt. We are a country of a special sort. We have many dreams. Egyptians are moderate. Any aggression against our people comes from outside Egypt.”

In remarks to the press he added: “Egypt should be seen as a country that has been injured. It has weak spots in some governorates and villages where attacks have occurred but on the whole the picture is good.”

He stressed that the Coptic Church was “totally separate” from the government though “we have good relations with the ruler, the parliament, the government and all segments of society.”

“The government protects the church. I believe the level of protection is good.”

Pope Tawadros II used the Australian leg of his trip to urge Australia to cooperate more closely with Egypt economically. In remarks to the AAB radio channel in he said: “Support for the Egyptian government is necessary for the economy to improve and bring the Egyptian people the better life they deserve.”

Some remarks made by the pope in Australia on the subject of religious asylum for Copts triggered controversy in Egypt. A rumour circulated to the effect that the pope had asked the Australian government to approve political and religious asylum for Coptic families. The Coptic Church denied this. Pope Tawadros himself stressed that emigrating or seeking asylum was a personal matter that had to do with individual circumstances.

Pope Tawadros will face a number of issues following his return to Egypt at the end of this week say ecclesiastical sources. Foremost among them is the security situation of Copts in Minya, especially in the villages of Kadwan and Al-Furn in the Abu Qarqas district. Other pressing matters include the licensing of churches, which will entail coordination between the Church and the ministerial committee charged with reviewing and approving the paperwork required to establish the legal status of churches. The end of September is the deadline for submitting all applications and supplementary documents.

Tawadros will also be briefed on the latest developments in revising the personal status laws and will have to deal with a petition, circulated by Coptic activists, asking him to intervene to secure a pardon by presidential decree on health grounds for Boules Al-Rayani, the monk sentenced to prison last year following clashes between the monks of the Monastery of Saint Macarius and security forces in what became known as the Wadi Al-Rayan crisis.

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