communion enables us to bear common witness to the faith
After celebrating Mass on Friday, 25 February, in Cairo's Sports Stadium, the
Holy Father had lunch with the Patriarchs and Bishops at the Apostolic
Nunciature. In the afternoon he went to Our Lady of Egypt Catholic Cathedral for
an Ecumenical Meeting with the leaders of the non-Catholic Churches and
Ecclesial Communities of Egypt. The celebration took the form of a Liturgy of
the Word, with readings from 1 Jn 4:18-22 and Jn 17:11b-21. After the
proclamation of the Gospel the Pope gave the following address in English.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship
of the Holy Spirit be with you all!" (2 Cor 13:14).
Your Holiness Pope Shenouda,
Your Beatitude Patriarch Stephanos,
Bishops and Dignitaries of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Egypt,
1. With the blessing of St Paul, which leads us directly to the heart of the
mystery of Trinitarian communion, I greet all of you with deep affection and in
the bonds of love which unite us in the Lord.
It is for me a great Joy to be a pilgrim in the country which gave
hospitality and protection to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Family; as it
is written in the Gospel of St Matthew: "Joseph rose and took the child and
his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the
death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out
of Egypt have I called my son’" (Mt 2:14-15).
Holy Spirit has brought Churches closer together
Egypt has been home to the Church from the beginning. Founded upon the
apostolic preaching and authority of St Mark, the Church of Alexandria soon
became one of the leading communities in the early Christian world. Venerable
Bishops like St Athanasius and St Cyril bore witness to faith in the Triune God
and in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, as defined by the first Ecumenical
Councils. It was in the desert of Egypt that monastic life originated, in both
its solitary and communal forms, under the spiritual fatherhood of St Anthony
and St Pachomius. Thanks to them and to the great impact of their spiritual
writings, monastic life became part of our common heritage. During recent
decades that same monastic charism has. flourished anew, and it irradiates a
vital spiritual message far beyond the borders of Egypt.
2. Today we give thanks to God that we are ever more aware of our common
heritage, in faith and in the richness of sacramental life. We also have in
common that filial veneration of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, for which the
Coptic and all the Eastern Churches are renowned. And "when we speak about
a common heritage, we must acknowledge as part of it, not only the institutions,
rites, means of salvation and the traditions which all the communities have
preserved and by which they have been shaped, but first and foremost this
reality of holiness" (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 84). For
faithfully guarding and preaching this heritage, the Church in Egypt has
undergone heavy sacrifices an continues to do so. How many martyrs appear in the
venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church, which dates back to the
terrible persecutions of the years 283-284! They gave glory to God in Egypt,
through their unfaltering witness unto death!
3. From the beginning, this common apostolic tradition and heritage has been
transmitted and explained in various forms which take account of the specific
cultural character of peoples. As far back as the fifth century however,
theological and non-theological factors, combined with a lack of fraternal love
and understanding, led to painful divisions in the one Church of Christ.
Mistrust and hostility arose between Christians, in contradiction with the
fervent desire of our Lord Jesus Christ who prayed "that they may all be
one" (Jn 17:21).
Now, in the course of the 20th century, the Holy Spirit has brought the
Christian Churches and communities closer together in a movement of
reconciliation. I recall with gratitude the meeting between Pope Paul VI and His
Holiness Pope Shenouda III in 1973, and the Common Christological Declaration
which they signed on that occasion. I give thanks for all those who
contributed to that important achievement, especially the Pro Oriente
Foundation in Vienna and the International Joint Commission between
the Roman Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Please God, this International
Joint Commission, and the Joint International Commission for the
Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church will
soon function normally once more, especially in view of certain fundamental
ecclesiological questions needing clarification.
4. I repeat what I wrote in my Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, that whatever
relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the
concerns of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (cf. n. 95). I therefore wish
to renew the invitation to all "Church leaders and their theologians to
engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue
in which leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another,
keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church" (n. 96). With
regard to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, I ask the Holy Spirit to
shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our
Churches, that we may seek together the forms in which this ministry may
accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned (cf. Homily, 6
December 1987, n. 3; Ut unum sint, n. 95). Dear Brothers, there is no
time to lose in this regard!
Let us seek viable forms of spiritual communion
5. Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in
one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality. This communion
enables us to bear common witness to our faith in a whole range of ways, and
indeed it demands that we cooperate in bringing the light of Christ to a world
in need of salvation. This common witness is all the more important at the
beginning of a new century and a new millennium which present enormous
challenges to the human family. For this reason too, there is no time to lose!
As a basic condition for this common witness, we must avoid anything which
might lead, once again, to distrust and discord. We have agreed to avoid any
form of proselytism, or methods and attitudes opposed to the exigencies of
Christian love and what should characterize the relationship between Churches
(cf Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 1973). And
we recall that true charity, rooted in total fidelity to the one Lord Jesus
Christ and in mutual respect for each one's ecclesial traditions and sacramental
practices, is an essential element of this search for perfect communion (ibid.).
We do not know each other sufficiently: let us therefore find ways to
meet! Let us seek viable forms of spiritual communion, such as joint prayer
and fasting, or mutual exchanges and hospitality between monasteries. Let us
find forms of practical cooperation, especially in response to the spiritual
thirst of so many people today, the relief of their distress, in the education
of the young, in securing humane conditions of life, in promoting mutual
respect, justice and peace, and in advancing religious freedom as a fundamental
6. At the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on 18th
January, I opened the Holy Door of the Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls in
Rome, and crossed its threshold together with representatives of many Churches
and Ecclesial Communities. Together with me, His Excellency Amba Bishoi of the
Coptic Church, and representatives of the Orthodox Church and of the Lutheran
Church raised the Book of the Gospels to the four cardinal points. This was a
deeply symbolic expression of our common mission in the new millennium: together
we have to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the saving message of
life, love and hope for the world.
During that same liturgy, the Apostles Creed was proclaimed by three
representatives of different Churches and Ecclesial Communities—the first part
was proclaimed by the representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of
Alexandria. Afterwards, we offered one another the sign of peace, and for me
that joyful moment was a foreshadowing and a foretaste of the full communion
which we are striving to achieve among all Christ's followers. May the Spirit of
God soon grant us the complete and visible unity for which we yearn!
7. I entrust this hope to the powerful intercession of the Theotokos, the
Archetype of the Church. She is the all pure, all beautiful, all holy creature,
able to "be the Church" as no other creature can ever be. Sustained by
her maternal presence, we shall have the courage to admit our faults and
hesitations, and seek the reconciliation which will enable us to "walk in
love, as Christ loved us" (cf. Eph 5:2). Venerable Brothers, may the third
Christian millennium be the millennium of our full unity in the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit.
At the end I wish to thank Pope Shenouda, most cordially, for the moving
words he said. I share the hopes which he expressed and I wish to reciprocate by
saying: "We love you too".