Pope, Coptic patriarch honor martyrs, urge unity for peace

By Carol Glatz

CAIRO (CNS) — Placing flowers,
lighting a candle and praying at the site where dozens of Coptic Orthodox
Christians were killed by an Islamic State militant last year, Pope Francis and
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II paid homage to those who were killed for their

Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros
walked in a short procession to the Church of St. Peter, where 29 people died
and 31 were wounded Dec. 11. The faithful chanted a song of martyrs, and some
clashed cymbals under the darkened evening sky.

Inside the small church, the
leaders of several other Christian communities in Egypt as well as Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople sat before the congregation, which
included family members of the victims.

A portion of one wall of the
complex was splattered with blood, and pictures of those killed — many with
bright smiles to the camera — were hung above. Some of the church’s stone
columns were pock-marked from the debris or shrapnel sent flying from the

Each of the eight Christian
leaders seated before the congregation, beginning with Pope Francis, read a
verse from the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Pope Francis and Pope
Tawadros then each said a few words in prayer, and everyone shared a sign of

Led by Pope Francis, the eight
leaders went to the back of the church, where each lit a small candle and
placed white flowers beneath the photos of the martyrs. Pope Francis leaned low
to touch the blood-stained wall and made the sign of the cross.

Earlier, in a historic and
significant move toward greater Christian unity, Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis
signed an agreement to end a longtime disagreement between the two churches
over the sacrament of baptism.

The Coptic Orthodox Church had
required new members joining from most non-Coptic churches — including those
who had previously been baptized as Catholic — to be baptized again.

The Catholic Church recognizes
all Christian baptisms performed with water and in “the name of the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Orthodox who enter the Catholic Church are
received as full members, but not baptized again.

In the joint declaration, the
two leaders “mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek
sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our
churches for any person who wishes to join the other.”

The document was signed during a
courtesy visit with Pope Tawadros at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral April 28.

In his speech to Pope Tawadros
and other Coptic Orthodox leaders, Pope Francis said, “The innocent blood
of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.” He told them it was that
innocent blood “that united us.”

“Your sufferings are also
our sufferings,” he said, the first day of a two-day visit to Egypt’s

“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?”

“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,” he said.

He encouraged Catholic and
Orthodox to work hard 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 peace
for all.”

Pope Tawadros, in his speech,
said Pope Francis was following in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis
of Assisi, who came to Egypt nearly 1,000 years ago to meet Sultan al-Kamel and
engage in “one of the most important experiences of intercultural dialogue
in history — a dialogue that is renewed today with your visit.”

Calling Pope Francis one of the
symbols of peace “in a world tormented by conflicts and wars,” the
Orthodox leader underlined that the world was thirsting for sincere efforts of
spreading peace and love, and stopping violence and extremism.

Pope Tawadros said Pope Francis’
visit “is a message for the rest of the world,” showing Egypt as a
model of mutual respect and understanding.

Despite Christianity’s deep
roots in Egypt, which was evangelized by St. Mark, Christians have lived
through some difficult and turbulent periods, he said. But that only made
people’s desire to love even greater, showing that “love and tolerance are
stronger than hatred and revenge and that the light of hope is stronger than
the darkness of desperation.”

“The criminal minds” behind
all the violence and threats hurting Egypt will never be able to break or
weaken the hearts of its citizens who are united and showing an example for
future generations.

Later in the evening, Pope
Francis was scheduled to go to the apostolic nunciature, where he was staying,
and greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo. After
dinner, he was expected to greet some 300 young people who came from outside
Cairo to see him.

The majority of the 82.5 million
Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Most estimates say 10-15 percent of the Egyptian
population are Christians, most of them Coptic Orthodox, but there are
Catholics, Protestants and other various Christian communities in the country
as well.


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