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Pope Francis to meet with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros

(Vatican Radio) On Friday morning Pope Francis is due to hold an audience in the Vatican with the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, who is currently making a five day visit to Rome. Philippa Hitchen takes a closer look at this important ecumenical encounter…

Exactly 40 years ago, in May 1973, another Coptic Pope Shenouda III came to Rome for a week to meet with Pope Paul VI. In the Vatican gardens, together with the top ecumenist of the day, Dutch Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the two leaders signed a joint declaration affirming their shared faith in Christ and His Church, founded on the Apostles and celebrated through the seven sacraments.

This historic event will be recalled by Shenouda’s successor, Pope Tawadros who arrived in the Vatican on Thursday with his delegation and was greeted at the entrance to the Domus Sanctae Marthae by Pope Francis, also living in the same guesthouse. The two men will have an official meeting on Friday, followed by a shared lunch, after which the Coptic leader will meet with Rome’s mayor and then visit the various Coptic Orthodox communities scattered around the city.

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt numbers over ten million faithful, plus several million other members living in the diaspora, making it the largest and one of the most significant Christian Churches in the Middle East. Given the extreme political instability and the violence suffered by Christians in Egypt recently, issues of promoting peace and reconciliation in the region are likely to be high on the agenda during the papal audience.

Since the election of Tawadros II as the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria last November, there has been a growing rapprochement between the Christian communities in Egypt, leading to the establishment of the first Council of Christian Churches in the country.

Listen to Philippa's report: RealAudioMP3