Pope Francis met Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II in the Vatican on Wednesday and celebrated him despite the separation between the two churches, the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox.
The four-day visit, at the invitation of Pope Francis, coincides with the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox pope, in 1973.
Today, Thursday, the Pope of the Vatican declared 21 Coptic Orthodox executed by the Islamic State in Libya in 2015 as martyrs of the Catholic Church.
Francis told Tawadros; The inclusion of the martyrs in what is known as the Roman Synaxarium, or the Book of Lives of Saints and Martyrs, is “a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches.”
The Argentine Jesuit warmly accepted the Pope of the Copts, in reference to the friendship that binds them, before giving him the opportunity to speak first in front of thousands of believers gathered, like every Wednesday, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.--
Francis said: “Dear friend and brother Tawadros, I thank you for accepting my invitation to this double anniversary (…), I sincerely thank you for your commitment to the growing friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.”
This is the third meeting between the two religious leaders after the first visit of the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church to Rome in 2013, and a visit by the Pope in 2017 during his visit to Egypt.
On this occasion, they signed a joint declaration, in which they reaffirmed the bonds of “fraternity and friendship”, despite the separation between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Copts make up between 10 and 15% of the one hundred million Egyptians, and they are the largest religious minority in the Middle East, according to differing estimates of the authorities and the church. There are no official statistics for the number of Copts in Egypt.