Pope Shows Support for Embattled Egyptian Copts

Image: Pope Shows Support for Embattled Egyptian Copts Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt Pope Tawadros II shake hands for photographers during their private audience in the pontiff's library at the Vatican on May 10.

Friday, 10 May 2013 12:02 PM

By Edward Pentin

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Edward Pentin reporting from Rome — Pope Francis stood shoulder-to-shoulder Friday with the embattled Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church when he became only the second Pope to receive the Egyptian church's leader at the Vatican in more than 1500 years.

On receiving Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Francis spoke of the strong bonds that exist between the Catholic and Coptic churches and paid tribute to those Copts who have "borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity."

Francis also referred to "an ecumenism of suffering" in which the sharing of daily trials "can become an effective instrument of unity." From shared suffering "can blossom forth forgiveness and reconciliation, with God’s help," Pope Francis said.

Egypt's Christians, who have had to live with widespread discrimination for years, have faced increasing attacks from fundamentalist groups since the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime and the election of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2012.

Urgent: Should the Pope change the Catholic Church?

Last month, St. Mark's cathedral in Cairo — the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church — came under attack from a mob and security forces, leading to the deaths of two Christians. Bomb attacks, forced conversions of Christians, and other sectarian conflicts have also been on the rise.

But the purpose of Tawadros' visit to the Vatican was primarily to mark the 40th anniversary of the meeting between his predecessor, Pope Shenouda, and Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. That visit led to a common declaration and the healing of centuries of tension and conflict between the two churches, mainly centered on theological differences.

Francis and Tawadros later held a shared prayer meeting, after which the Coptic Orthodox leader visited the tombs of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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