VATICAN CITY (Toledo Blade) - At the Vatican on Friday not one, not two, but three popes were inside the tiny city-state's walls at the same time.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Catholic Pope Francis, each addressing the other as “Your Holiness", prayed together for reconciliation among communities and nations without mention of events in Egypt. Tawadros has previously denounced a wave of anti-Christian attacks there.
A short walk from where they met in the Apostolic Palace, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is living out his retirement in a convent in the Vatican gardens. There were no plans for Tawadros, making his first trip outside Egypt since his election in November, to meet Benedict.
The tall, black-robed Tawadros is the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the largest Christian Church in Egypt. He is only the second Coptic pope in history to visit the Vatican.
In their public speeches, neither Francis, 76, nor Tawadros, 60, made direct mention of the recent sectarian violence in Egypt between majority Muslims and Christians, who make up about 15 percent of Egypt's population of 84 million.
Francis spoke of an “ecumenism of suffering” among Christians and in joint prayers afterwards in a Vatican chapel both leaders heard a prayer for “all countries and communities which are victims of conflict and violence” and for “peace and harmony without discrimination and injustice".
Attacks on churches and sectarian tensions increased after the rise of Islamists to power in Egypt following the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, although Christians had demonstrated alongside Muslims for his removal.
Christians in Egypt have long complained of discrimination in employment and treatment by the authorities and have called for changes in laws to make it as easy to build or renovate churches as it is for mosques.
In an rare interview last month, Tawadros told Reuters that Egypt's Christians feel neglected by Muslim Brotherhood-led authorities, who proffer assurances but have taken little or no action to protect them from violence.
“There is a sense of marginalisation and rejection, which we can call social isolation,” he said.
Christianity is believed to have been brought to Egypt by the evangelist Mark in the first century.
Tawadros invited Francis to visit Egypt, but he would need a parallel invitation from the Egyptian government to made such a trip.
VATICAN CITY (Washington Post) — Two popes prayed together Friday at the Vatican, one Catholic and one Orthodox, in a sign of improving ties following the election of new leaders for both churches.
Pope Francis welcomed the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, in the first such meeting at the Vatican in 40 years, saying his visit “strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood” between the two churches.
The Coptic and Catholic churches split in the fifth century over theocratic differences.
Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt counts about 10 million faithful, while the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt — whose faithful are loyal to Pope Francis — counts about 165,000.
Both, however, have complained about increased discrimination and attacks against them since the 2011 overthrow of longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, especially with the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
With Francis in white and Tawadros in black, the two prayed together for peace Friday in the modern, mosaic-covered Redemptoris Mater Chapel inside the Apostolic Palace. Arabic chants dominated the simple ceremony.
The occasion was to mark the 40th anniversary of a declaration for improving ties signed in 1973 at the Vatican by Pope Paul VI and Tawadros’ predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who died last year. The late Pope John Paul II visited Shenouda in Cairo in 2000.
Francis on Friday referred to the “suffering” of Christians, saying their shared suffering can be a source of strength and unity.
“From shared suffering can blossom forth forgiveness, reconciliation and peace, with God’s help,” he said.
Since taking office last year, Tawadros has reached out to Egypt’s Catholic community, attending the installation of the new Catholic patriarch and helping form a council of Christian churches in Egypt.
Francis, for his part, has made several overtures to the Orthodox Church. The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, attended Francis’ installation ceremony in an important gesture of unity.
In his remarks, Tawadros said he had wanted to come to Rome to congratulate Francis on his election, invite him to Egypt and to try to build both unity between the churches and peace in the region.
“Working together to promote ecumenical dialogue and peace on earth will be our mutual aim,” he said in English.
Tawadros’ presence inside the Apostolic Palace meant there were actually three popes inside the Vatican on Friday: Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was in his retirement home in a monastery inside the Vatican gardens.