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Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship

Wednesday 10th May 2023

Exactly fifty years ago (10 May 1973), the heads of the Coptic Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (Pope Shenouda III of Egypt and Pope Paul VI of Rome) signed an historic Christological agreement, putting an end to a 1,500 year old theological controversy and ushering in a new era of Coptic-Catholic relations.

[At the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 CE, Coptic Christians split from the Roman Catholic Church. Rome and Constantinople accused the Coptic Church of being “monophysite,” or teaching only one nature of Christ. In the last 50 years scholars on both sides of the dispute have worked hard to achieve a common understanding of the nature of Christ. The Coptic Church is ecumenical in outlook, and was a founder member of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The Coptic Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, a group which includes the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, the Syrian Church of India, and the Armenian Church]

On May 10th 2023, Pope Francis was joined at his weekly General Audience by Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, for a special joint greeting to the faithful. Pope Tawadros addressed the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square, the first time the head of another Church has done so.

“Beloved brother, His Holiness Pope Francis. Christ is risen, He is truly risen! I look at this place and I go back in my memory to ten years ago, on this same date, and I remember your dear affection in welcoming me, together with the delegation of the Coptic Church.”

Pope Tawadros, Coptic Orthodox leader, recalling his visit to St Peter’s square in 2013

Pope Tawadros recalled that, on that occasion, on 10 May 2013, he had suggested that the date be celebrated as a ‘Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship’. Since then, he said, he and Pope Francis have spoken over the phone on that day every year.

The Coptic Orthodox leader went on to thank Francis for his visit to Egypt in 2017, recalling that the country – where his Church is based – has ancient Christian roots, and was the birthplace of monasticism. “Despite the differences in our roots and affiliations, we are united by the love of Christ who dwells within us, and the host of our Apostolic Fathers and saints which surrounds and guides us.”

“It is with great joy that I greet today His Holiness Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark. Dear friend and brother Tawadros, I thank you for accepting my invitation on this double anniversary, and I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit might illuminate your visit to Rome. I thank you from the heart for your commitment to the growing friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Together with you, I implore Almighty God, that, through the intercession of the saints and martyrs of the Coptic Church, He might help us to grow in communion.”

Pope Francis, 10 May 2023

The Vatican announced it has released a book about the Vatican’s efforts to promote Christian unity in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Shenouda III of Egypt and Pope Paul VI of Rome on 10 May 1973, when an agreement was signed between the Coptic Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. The agreement ended a 1,500-year-old theological dispute, ushering in a new period of improved relations between the Coptic and Catholic groups.

The book includes papers documenting the dialogues between the two churches from the second Vatican Council till the present.

It contains a joint introduction by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. The introduction emphasises “the importance of constantly asking ourselves where we need to go beyond our current state in our journey towards full communion”.

In the introduction, the two popes describe the 10 May 1973 meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI  as a “historic meeting” and note that the book brings together the key documents of the rapprochement between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox churches. 

The two popes recall the joint Christological declaration issued by the two churches on 10 May 1973 which later led to producing a document outlining the principles for seeking unity between the two churches, signed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Shenouda III in 1979.

In the book, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II recall their first meeting on 10 May 2013, during which they announced the celebration of the Day of Friendship between Catholics and Copts, which continues to be celebrated annually. 

Finally, the two popes expressed their hope for the growth of brotherly love and friendship between the two churches, leading to the long-awaited day when they can celebrate together at the altar.

Source: Vatican News and Ahram online