Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II

Author: Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II

May our friendship never stop growing

On Thursday morning, 11 May [2023], in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis received in audience His Holiness Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of their predecessors, Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III (1973-2023). After the private meeting and the presentation of the delegations, before the exchange of gifts, each delivered an address. At the end, the Holy Father and His Holiness Tawadros proceeded to the Redemptoris Mater Chapel for a moment of joint prayer. The following is a translation of the address delivered by Pope Francis.

Your Holiness! Dear brothers in Christ!

“This is the day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it!”. It was with this Paschal acclamation, fifty years ago, that Pope Saint Paul VI welcomed your venerable predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, to Saint Peter’s Basilica. It is with the same acclamation that I welcome you today, beloved brother and dear friend Tawadros. I thank you from my heart for accepting my invitation to commemorate together the jubilee of this historic event in 1973, as well as the tenth anniversary of our first meeting in 2013.

In the ecumenical journey, it is important always to look ahead. Cultivating in the heart a healthy impatience and an ardent desire for unity, we must be, like the apostle Paul, "straining forward to what lies ahead” (cf. Phil 3:13), and continually asking ourselves, “Quanta est nobis via?” – How far do we still have to go? However, it is also necessary to remember, especially in times of discouragement, to rejoice in the path already travelled and to draw on the fervour of the pioneers who have gone before us. Looking ahead and remembering. Yet, it is undoubtedly all the more incumbent on us to look up, to thank the Lord for the steps we have taken and to beseech Him to give us the gift of the longed-for unity.

To thank and to supplicate. This is the purpose of our commemoration today. The meeting of our Predecessors, which took place in Rome from 9 to 13 May 1973, marked a historic milestone in relations between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. It was the first meeting between a Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and a Bishop of Rome. It also marked the end of a theological dispute dating back to the Council of Chalcedon, thanks to the signing on 10 May 1973 of a memorable joint Christological declaration, which later served as an inspiration for similar agreements with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The meeting led to the creation of the joint international commission between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which in 1979 adopted the pioneering Principles to guide the search for unity between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, signed by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Shenouda III, which stated in prophetic words that “the unity we envision does not mean the absorption of one by the other or the domination of one over the other. It is at the service of each one to help him or her better live out the specific gifts he or she has received from the Spirit of God”.

This joint Commission then opened the way to the birth of a fruitful dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire family of eastern Orthodox Churches, which held its first meeting in 2004 in Cairo, hosted by His Holiness Shenouda. I thank the Coptic Orthodox Church for its commitment to this theological dialogue. I am also grateful to His Holiness for the fraternal attention he continues to pay to the Coptic Catholic Church, proximity that found praiseworthy expression in the creation of the National Council of Christian Churches in Egypt.

As can be seen, the meeting of our distinguished Predecessors has never ceased to fear fruit in the journey of our Churches towards full communion. It is also in remembrance of the 1973 meeting that Your Holiness came to me for the first time on 10 May 2013, a few months after your enthronement and a few weeks after the beginning of my pontificate. On that occasion, you proposed to celebrate every 10 May as the “Day of friendship between Copts and Catholics”, which since then is punctually celebrated by our Churches.

When speaking of friendship, I am reminded of the famous eighth-century Coptic icon depicting the Lord resting his hand on the shoulder of his friend, the holy monk Mena of Egypt. This icon is sometimes called the “icon of friendship” because the Lord seems to want to accompany his friend and walk with him. Similarly, the bonds of friendship between our Churches are rooted in the friendship of Jesus Christ Himself with all His disciples whom He calls "friends" (cf. Jn 15:15), and whom He accompanies on their journey, as He did with the pilgrims of Emmaus.

In this journey of friendship we are also accompanied by the martyrs, who testify that "no one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13). I have no words to express my gratitude for the precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya on 15 February 2015. These martyrs were baptized not only in water and the Spirit, but also in blood, with a blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ. I am pleased to announce today that, with Your Holiness' consent, these twenty-one martyrs will be included in the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion uniting our two Churches.

May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs, united with those of the Theotokos, continue to make our Churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we will be able to celebrate together at the same altar and commune with the same Body and Blood of the Saviour, “that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21)!

Thank you.


On Thursday, 11 May [2023], 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 eveiy 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 Evangeliujn, 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 histoiy, 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 well-spring 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 arc 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 docs not neglect or sleep, and that he may bless us all forever. Amen.


Holy See Press Office Bulletin, 11 May 2023


L'Osservatore Romano
12 May 2023, page 3