Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church

Martyrs an example for all

 Martyrs an example for all  ING-019
12 May 2023

On Thursday, 11 May, Pope Francis met with Pope Tawadros ii , the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and a delegation accompanying him. The following is a translation of Pope Tawadros ii ’s words to the Holy Father.

My brother, Your Holiness Pope Francis!
Eminences, Gentlemen!
Christ is risen, he is truly risen!

It is an immense joy for me to be present here with you today, to embrace you with my heart and not only with my hands. I rejoice with you in Christ who rose from the dead, and I thank you for having given me the opportunity to make this visit.

It is an honour for me to find myself in this land where the Apostles preached and where Saint Mark, Apostle and preacher in the land of Egypt, lived, and from where so many left to evangelize and preach to the whole world in the name of our Lord Jesus as Redeemer and Saviour.

I would like to reflect with you on what the Apostle Paul wrote from here, from Rome, to the Ephesians: “That you […] may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (3:18). Because love, dear friends, is the permanent foundation and the main path to perfection, God’s only path, because God is love and whoever knows him follows in the footsteps of love with Him and towards Him.

I see the world as a large circle centred around God: each of us finds him or herself at a point in this circle and every time we draw closer to God, that is, the centre of the circle, we also find ourselves closer to each other. We understand each other because of our closeness to the divine light and our love grows day by day through our closeness to God who is love.

It is a long path, that on which we travel together towards God who says, “I am the way” (Jn 14:6). Sometimes we are called the wayfarers because we follow Him. That is how Enoc walked with God (cf. Gen 5:24) and Noah walked with God (cf. Gen 6:9); Abraham, David and the disciples of Emmaus and many others, all those who walked with Him and took him as a travel companion rejoiced in it. However, the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of this love are infinite, because it comes from God and cannot be measured, and it is our responsibility to become like Him and offer unconditional love to each other and to the entire world. One of the signs of the path of love for every human being is your publication of the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, for which I congratulate you because it bears witness to concern for all human aspects.

Through the sessions of dialogue between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, we are walking on the path of love, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, He who gives rise to faith and brings it to fruition (cf. Heb 12:2).

In our modern era, mutual visits between our Churches began in 1962. They were followed by the visit of His Holiness Pope Shenouda iii to the Cathedral of Rome in May of 1973, in the presence of His Holiness Pope Paul vi . During this visit, His Holiness was given a part of the relics of Saint Athanasius during the celebration of the 16th anniversary of his departure. He is the Coptic Pope of the fourth century, a.d. His Holiness Pope Paul vi said in his homily at the celebration that “Saint Athanasius is a father and teacher for the universal Church”.

On 10 May 1973 the two Leaders of our Churches signed a joint declaration in which they agreed to create a joint Committee whose mission is to guide common studies in the fields of church tradition, patristics, liturgy, theology and history, scientific problems, to communicate the Gospel together in ways that are compatible with the Lord’s original message and with the needs and hopes of today’s world.

We thank God for the continuation of theological dialogue of the joint international Committee between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which we had the honour of welcoming in their last meeting at the Logos Center, the papal residence in Egypt, and whose 20th meeting we will celebrate next year.

That is how we started the dialogue, and we are continuing it. Dialogue is a longer but safer path, protected by the two sides of love: that of Christ’s love for us and that of mutual love. Therefore, whatever happens to us, as in the challenges we face, we have the love which protects us so that we can continue our mission and grow in mutual understanding. Prayer is our wellspring to support each other, taking on our responsibilities, placing before us the words of John the Beloved: “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Precisely because the saints are one of the main pillars of our Churches, starting with the apostles Peter, Paul and Mark, we now add to the Martyrology of Churches, new Martyrs who guarded the faith and bore witness to Christ, who did not lose hope in the face of torture and who transmitted to us a living example in martyrdom, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29).

That is how the 21 Martyrs of Libya were. From the moment we recognised their holiness in the Coptic Orthodox Church, we began to celebrate every 8 amshir, which corresponds to 15 February, as a feast for the martyrs of the modern age, martyred in recent years. Today we deliver part of their relics immersed in their blood poured out in the name of Christ for the Church, so that they may be remembered in the martyrology of all the world’s Churches and so that “we too” may know that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). And thus, may they become a model and contemporary example for the entire world, bearing witness that ours is not a historical Christianity of the past, but one of yesterday, of today, and forever.

Lastly, I thank Your Holiness for having invited me and the delegation accompanying me, for the kind words of welcome with which you received us, in His name and on behalf of all of you. I renew my promise to remember you in my personal prayers, as we promised each other during my last visit here. I pray that God may grant you full health, a long life, and eternal happiness.

I pray with all of you for the Church of God on earth, so that He may make it strong through the centuries, so that it can always raise celestial praises, and that he may safeguard it with his care, which does not neglect or sleep, and that he may bless us all forever. Amen.