06/10/2005, 00.00
JORDAN

'Agreement and harmony' among Eastern Christians, say Orthodox Copts

by Youssef Hourany
Interview with Pope Shenouda III: the dialogue with Catholics, which is stalled over the Petrine primacy, must be renewed. Christians' flight from the Middle East is worrisome. Church property belongs to the faithful and cannot be sold.

Amman (AsiaNews) – Eastern Christians are in "agreement and harmony"; dialogue among them must continue and be based on mutual trust. This is what Pope Shenouda III, head of the world's Orthodox Copts, told AsiaNews in an interview in which he spoke about the dialogue with the Catholic Church, which the primacy of the Bishop of Rome has made difficult but which he hopes can be renewed during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Pope Shenouda III, who is in Amman (Jordan) for the Ecumenical Council of Churches of the region, is head of the world's more than 10 million Orthodox Copts, especially those of Egypt.

He said that "inter-faith dialogue in the Arab region is not a condition for the religions' survival because agreement and harmony [already] reigns among their religious leaders".

"Dialogue must be based on mutual trust among all religious components of the Arab world, including Catholics," he added, "but not with the 'Jews'. Not until Jerusalem is freed from the Israeli presence will the Orthodox Coptic Church go there".

Answering a question about developments in Israel after the sale of Church property by former Patriarch Ireneos to Israeli interests, Shenouda said he "firmly condemned these unjust acts because Church properties belong to the faithful, not the leaders."

The leader of the world's Orthodox Copts calls on Christian religious leaders not to sell their properties which remain the only guarantee for a Christian presence in the Middle East.

Shenouda III is notably concerned about the future of Christians in the region because of the worryingly "high flow of Eastern Christians towards the West and the region's ongoing difficult situation." Still, he says "we must place our hopes in the Lord of History, Guardian of His people".

Pope Shenouda III said that the ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church, which began in 1973 after the Second Vatican Council when he undertook his historic visit to the Vatican where he signed a joint declaration with then Pope Paul VI, is currently stalled over theological and dogmatic issues.

"The major stumbling block in the ecumenical dialogue remains the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. It prevents any further development with the Eastern Churches because Jesus Christ did not choose a single successor but gave this power to single Churches," he explained. In his view, the leaders of all the Eastern Churches are successors to Jesus Christ.

Pope Shenouda III did however express his Church's satisfaction over the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who, he said, has shown himself very open to inter-faith dialogue.

For this reason, he is calling on the Catholic Church not to interrupt discussing issues of common interest.

Finally, he said he was confident that the young constitute "the springtime of the Church". Consequently, he announced the creation of a unit devoted to the young within Orthodox Coptic Patriarchate. It is the first time that is done and the new body is chaired by a very young bishop.

"We want to follow the young and lead them onto the right path," he said. "This is an urgent commandment in this day and age if we are to protect them from evil's influence".

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