Francis and Patriarch Tawadros II want to move on the path of full unity. They prayed in the church attacked in December. “[J]ust as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.”
Cairo (AsiaNews) - In his meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II on Friday, Pope Francis said that Catholics and Coptic Orthodox are on the path of unity, and that their martyrology underlies their “ecumenism of blood”. Addressing the patriarch, the pontiff said “your sufferings are also our sufferings” as evinced by the innocent victims of the latest attack in Cairo.
After their speeches, the two went to the nearby St Peter's Church to pray in the place where a bomb attack killed 29 people last December. They were joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who is in Cairo for the Peace Conference.
The meeting between Francis and Tawadros centred on ecumenism. Francis cited Tawadros' visit to Rome on 10 May 2013, which has “become the occasion for celebrating an annual Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics.” Tawadros did the same, noting that “dialogue between the Eastern Churches and the Catholic Church marks its fifteenth anniversary in an atmosphere in which all members of the two Churches affirm the belief in the importance of the Lord's words: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
“Unity in today's world,” Tawadros added, “is the clearest and most fundamental testimony of Christ we can offer to the world. So, Your Holiness, we wait for the day when we shall break bread together on the sacred altar, the day when all the bells of the churches will ring out together to celebrate the birth of the Saviour or His Resurrection. "
For his part, Francis said “As we joyfully progress on our ecumenical journey, I wish particularly to recall that milestone in relations between the Sees of Peter and Mark which is the Common Declaration signed by our predecessors more than forty years ago, on 10 May 1973. After ‘centuries of difficult history’ marked by increasing ‘theological differences, nourished and widened by non-theological factors’, and growing mistrust, we were able that day, with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is ‘perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity’ (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 10 May 1973).”
Such a journey saw a further step today with the signing of a joint declaration that ends the disagreement over their respective baptism, thus leading to mutual recognition of this sacrament.
“We can no longer think that each can go his own way,”
In his address, Francis did not mention this, but stated that both confessions “belong to Jesus and that he is our all.
“What is more, we realized that, because we belong to him, we can no longer think that each can go his own way, for that would betray his will that his disciples ‘all be one… so that the world may believe’” (Jn 17:21). In the sight of God, who wishes us to be “perfectly one” (v. 23), it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations, much less of those centuries of history and traditions that estranged us one from the other. In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, “there is no time to lose in this regard! Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality” (Address at the Ecumenical Meeting, 25 February 2000). Consequently, not only is there an ecumenism of gestures, words and commitment, but an already effective communion that grows daily in living relation with the Lord Jesus, is rooted in the faith we profess and is truly grounded on our baptism and our being made a “new creation” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) in him. In a word, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we constantly set out anew, in order to hasten that eagerly awaited day when we will be in full and visible communion around the altar of the Lord.
“In this exciting journey, which – like life itself – is not always easy and straightforward, but on which the Lord exhorts us to persevere, we are not alone. We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26). Among them, surely Peter and Mark in particular rejoice in our encounter today. Great is the bond uniting them. We need only think of the fact that Saint Mark put at the heart of his Gospel Peter’s profession of faith: “You are the Christ”. It was the answer to Jesus ever urgent question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). Today too, many people cannot answer this question; there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.
“Together, then, we are called to bear witness to him, to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love. As Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, we can always join in speaking this common language of charity: before undertaking a charitable work, we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus. Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity.”
“The deepening progress of our ecumenical journey is also sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood. Saint John tells us that Jesus came “with water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6); whoever believes in him thus “overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5). With water and blood: by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life. How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil! The venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church bears eloquent witness to this. Even in recent days, tragically, the innocent blood of defenceless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us. Most dear brother, just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings. Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.
“The impressive history of holiness of this land is distinguished not only by the sacrifice of the martyrs. No sooner had the ancient persecutions ended that a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert. Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea (cf. Ps 106:21-22) were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity. With veneration for this shared patrimony, I have come as a pilgrim to this land that the Lord himself loves to visit. For here, in his glory he came down upon Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:16), and here, in his humility, he found refuge as a child (cf. Mt 2:14).
“Your Holiness, dearest brother, may the same Lord today grant us to set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace. On this journey, may the Virgin Mary take us by the hand, she who brought Jesus here, and whom the great Egyptian theological tradition has from of old acclaimed as Theotokos, the Mother of God. In this title, humanity and divinity are joined, for in his Mother, God became forever man. May the Blessed Virgin, who constantly leads us to Jesus, the perfect symphony of divine and human, bring yet once more a bit of heaven to our earth.”