An ecumenical watershed in Egypt

A local Catholic leader in Egypt spoke recently of a watershed in ecumenical relations between the Coptic-Orthodox and the Catholic Churches.

The Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos William Samaan, made his comments to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) following the meeting between the Coptic-Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis on May 10 in Rome.

Archbishop Kyrillos WilliamAccording to the bishop, “Pope Tawadros has shown from the very beginning that he wants to come closer to the other Churches. Tawadros is quite different from his predecessor Shenouda, as far as the ecumenical movement is concerned."

Pope Shenouda III had wished to visit Pope Paul VI in the Vatican in 1973. "But,” according to Bishop Kyrillos, “he soon feared that the ecumenical movement would confuse the faithful and that they would no longer place any value on their denominational affiliation. He therefore wanted nothing to do with the local Catholic Church."

In the matter of the Coptic-Orthodox Church's recognition of Catholic baptism, Bishop Kyrillos expects some movement on the part of Pope Tawadros.

"Tawadros has said this himself. Shenouda demanded rebaptism because in his opinion, unity in faith is a condition for recognizing Catholic baptism. He quoted the Epistle to the Ephesians, where there is talk of one Lord, one faith and one baptism."

The problem, Anba Kyrillos continued, is that in the Coptic synod there are still many of Shenouda's adherents. But there are also Bishops who had gone along with Shenouda's line on rebaptism for reasons of obedience and not conviction.

"I cannot, therefore, risk a prediction that the line will change. But my impression is that the Pope's cordial nature and the openness of Tawadros' curia representatives and his companions, including also disciples of Shenouda, have made a positive impact," the bishop said.

Bishop Kyrillos described how the ecumenical rapprochement of the two Churches was also being driven forward by the common problems the Catholics and Orthodox adherents have been experiencing in Egypt.

"When the revolution broke out two years ago, spontaneous consultations arose between us Catholics and the Orthodox Church, as well as Protestants. We wanted to speak with one voice. In institutional terms this rapprochement has had an impact on the Council of Egypt's Churches."

When asked whether the ecumenical rapprochement could come to an end with the question of the Pope's primacy, Bishop Kyrillos said, "No, I don't think so. In the theological dialogues being conducted between Catholics and the Ancient Oriental Churches the question of primacy has been discussed.”

“The criterion is what recognized practice was in the first millennium, when there was still unity of the Eastern and Western Churches.”

“In his ecumenical encyclical Ut unum sint in 1995 Pope John Paul II invited the Oriental Patriarchs to reconsider what would be for them an acceptable exercise of the Petrine office," the bishop said.


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