(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ meeting with the Coptic Orthodox leader, Pope Tawadros in Cairo on Friday will be an important sign of solidarity with Christians who suffer and die for their faith in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
That’s the view of Msgr Gabriel Quicke who heads the office for dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches at the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity.
Last week he accompanied Cardinal Kurt Koch and Pope Francis’ private secretary to Egypt with a personal message of condolences in the wake of two bomb attacks on churches in Alexandria and Tanta, north of Cairo. The twin attacks on Palm Sunday, claimed by so-called Islamic State militants, left at least 45 people dead and dozens of others injured.
Msgr Quicke says the Coptic Pope was deeply “touched by that sign of spiritual attention” and closeness to the suffering Christian communities. Speaking to Philippa Hitchen, he says Pope Francis’ encounter with Tawadros will be an important “continuation of the ecumenical path towards full and visible unity” of the Churches.
Msgr Quicke recalls that in 2015, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya, the Coptic bishop in Italy, Msgr Barnaba asked if Pope Francis could send a message of solidarity with the Coptic community. On Palm Sunday, he said, following the latest attacks, the Holy Father asked him to accompany Cardinal Kurt Koch, together with his own private secretary, to Egypt with a message of condolences.
It was a very brief visit, with an overnight stay at the Apostolic nunciature in Cairo, followed by an early morning journey to Alexandria to the residence of Pope Tawadros there.
Spiritual closeness to victims
The Catholic delegation brought a message of condolences and solidarity, expressing Pope Francis “spiritual closeness in prayer, in heart and mind” to all those affected by the attacks. Msgr Quicke says the Coptic leader was “very touched emotionally, by that sign of spiritual attention” and asked “to express his closeness as well” recalling that during their meeting in Rome in 2013, “they promised one another to pray for one another every day”.
Ecumenism of blood
During that encounter in the Vatican, shortly after both men were elected, Msgr Quicke notes that Pope Francis spoke forcefully about “the ecumenism of blood” of the Coptic martyrs. He repeated the phrase following the beheadings in 2015, stressing that “they are not persecuted because they are Orthodox” or Copts, but “because they are Christian”. Citing the early Christian author from Carthage, Tertullian, he said “as the blood of the [first] martyrs became the seed for the growing of the Christian Church, [so] the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed nowadays for the unity of Christians”.
Strengthen solidarity among Christians
During the brief visit to Cairo, Msgr Quicke says he sensed that “not only the Coptic Orthodox Church, but all Christians, the whole Muslim community and all Egypt is waiting for the visit of the pope”. Although the encounter between two popes will be an important “continuation of the ecumenical path” towards Christian unity, the papal trip will also be an opportunity for the Holy Father to meet with the small Catholic community “ to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and fraternity between all Christians”.