Pope up north

tawadrosIt’s still an odd concept: the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who also happens to be the successor of Saint Mark, travelling from the Egyptian capital to a midsized northern Dutch town – which is, in itself, not the most thrilling of locations to be – to be with the young faithful under his spiritual guidance.

Pope Tawadros II is doing exactly that this weekend. And the faithful attending the European Youth Conference love him for it. Miriam Yakob, one of the 750 attending, said, “He may even be more important to us [than the Catholic Pope]. He is our shepherd, our teacher. He is our father.” The Pope gave two talks at the conference.

On behalf of the local Catholic community, Father Maurits Damsté was among those welcoming Pope Tawadros to the conference centre in Stadskanaal, located about 30 kilometers to the south east of the city of Groningen, where the event is taking place.

Pope Tawadros’ visit follows one by his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who visited the Netherlands in 2010. Shenouda passed away in 2012, and Tawadros was elected in November of that year. In May of 2013, he visited Rome and met with Pope Francis.

The Coptic Orthodox is sadly not in union with Rome, and hasn’t been since the Council of Chalcedon of 451. The differences lie in Coptic understanding of the nature of Christ, but this is a highly technical issue. The Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Church have established close ties since 1973, and have together confessed unity in the faith in Christ.

Worldwide, there are between 14 and 16 million Coptic Orthodox Christians, with the vast majority, some 12 million, residing in Egypt. In the Netherlands, there are Coptic Orthodox churches in seven cities. There is a single diocese for the roughly 6,000 faithful, headed by Bishop Arseny.

 Photo credit: Rtvnoord.nl

Three Popes in the Vatican – a historical occasion in more than one way

francis tawadros

With Pope Francis residing in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and Coptic Pope Tawadros II visiting from Egypt, the Vatican is temporarily home to no less than three Popes. But that’s not the only remarkable thing about this week. Tawadros and Francis are repeating a visit that took place exactly forty years ago between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III.

In 1973, the Catholic and Coptic delegates came together on an important confession of faith in Jesus Christ, in many ways the essential unity to achieve before any further steps in ecumenism can be taken. In the next days, we should look with hope to the meetings between Pope Tawadros II and his associates with the various dicasteries of the Holy See.

As Pope Francis said in his address to Pope Tawadros II today:

“Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of communion, among which I am pleased to recall the meeting in February 2000 in Cairo between Pope Shenouda III and Blessed John Paul II, who went as a pilgrim, during the Great Jubilee, to the places of origin of our faith.  I am convinced that – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity.”

Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano