Pope Tawadros On The Future Of The Church In The New Egypt
The revolution unleashed Coptic youth to speak out against injustices practiced against Christians in Egypt, sometimes with tragic results. Many Copts were thrilled with the ousting of President Morsi by the military last July, but others were more cautious, recalling that the military had struck at Coptic protesters two years ago.
Shortly after the coup, Pope Tawadros made a short televised speech in which he voiced his general approval for the new road map for Egypt’s future, essentially giving his approval for the coup.
“This roadmap has been drafted by honourable people who seek the interests, first and foremost, of the country,” he said.
The Church has always played a significant role in representing the Coptic people to/for the state, although the revolution and the subsequent passing of Pope Shenouda raised questions as to whether this would remain the case.
The Catholic on-line journal Oasis, devoted to “Christians and Muslims in the age of mestizaje of civilizations” published a lengthy interview with Pope Tawadros, leader of the Coptic Christian Church, on the occasion of his visit to Rome and meeting with Pope Francis.
Pope Tawadros shared some of his thoughts on the future of the Coptic church in Egypt during this age of revolution. (you can read the full interview here.)
Your Holiness has made some audacious political declarations in many interviews. Is it your view that the Church has a political role that is of no small account?
When we speak about its political role and national role, both are important, but naturally its national role is fundamental and what the Egyptian Church has done is to relaunch its national role.
On 30 June the Egyptian people with its various loyalties was at boiling point and ousted the head of the government. For this reason I believe that what I did on 3 July was a way of expressing myself.
You can take part in demonstrations and raise the flag of Egypt. This was something I did not do, but I was able to take part in the consultations of that day. The participation of the Church on 3 July 2013 was a national and not a political participation, a participation for Egypt, as I said in my address after the announcement.
The Pope asked himself: ‘Can I remain seated where I am while the whole of the Egyptian people is demonstrating in the streets?’ Therefore I exhorted people to interact socially and this was honesty and responsibility because Egypt is like the temple of Karnak. It is the columns that support this large temple: the Egyptian Church is one of those columns and if it is hit the whole country is lost. The columns are the Egyptian Church, al-Azhar, the judicial system, the army, its art and its language, and none of these can exclude any of the others.
Bringing back to the fore the national role of the Egyptian Church has been difficult above all because it had been marginalised over the decades, but my destiny is to live in this epoch.
When the Church took a stance on 30 June in favor of the people’s revolt, all Christians had the feeling that Pope Tawadros was the Pope not only of the Copts but also of all the Egyptians. In your view what are the greatest problems of the Christians of Egypt? What do you say to those families who wish to emigrate?
The Council of the Churches of Egypt is a unique organisation that publishes unique declarations for all Egyptians. Personally, as Pope of the Egyptian Church, I feel that my responsibility extends to all Egyptians and not only to Christians. At the moment of my first investiture they described me as ‘the new Pope of Egypt’.
My personal feeling is this – to serve and not to direct. It is for this reason that my office is open to everyone, without any exceptions.
Immigration is a personal question. The Egyptians are very tied to their land and Egypt from a historical and geographical point of view is ‘a river, a land, a people’. God alone knows the many reasons that have led Egyptians to leave but we are here for our children, we take care of them and we help them not to emigrate. We do not encourage them to leave the country even when they find themselves in difficult situations. The Bible says ‘In the world there will be tribulations’. Egypt is a country where Christ, blessed by the Holy Family, set foot.
At times God allows some individuals to emigrate in order to reawaken the faith of other countries that have lost it and which have distanced themselves from God. For example, in Vienna our church has an external iron wall which impedes people from seeing it. The Cardinal, a truly exceptional man whom I have met, one day when he was passing in front of the church saw a group of women and young people in the garden. He asked them about the life and activities of the church and they answered him that it was an Orthodox church. The Cardinal then wanted to meet the Orthodox bishop and he gave him a second church, one that was about to be abolished in another area of the city.
The emigration that we encourage is between African countries because the development of these countries constitutes riches for the whole region. Recently I appointed a married priest, who lived in Canada, to be responsible together with his wife for a church in Ghana.
What does Your Holiness think about the role of the ‘House of the Family’? What are relations with al-Azhar like?
It is important for the Church to have relations of love with everyone; there is an institution in Egyptian society that unites the Church to al-Azhar and this institution is the House of the Family, an institution that was born only four years ago but which in time has become increasingly influential.
There is a special and good relationship with His Excellency the Imam Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb. We are always in contact with each other and we discuss many things…
Has anything new happened as regards the closed churches and the law about places of worship and the single personal status [for all Christians]?
As regards the places of worship, with a number of jurists we are preparing an amendment to certain articles which will be presented to the first elected parliament.
As regards, on the other hand, the code of personal status, the questions to be addressed are very many in number and we have just one clerical council. We have begun to prepare six other clerical councils. The council is valid for three years and is made up of a bishop, a lawyer, two priests and a medical doctor. They meet just once a year.
As regards the personal code for all relations with the state, this is work that has been at a standstill for thirty-five years, which God certainly has had His reasons to block, and which must now be taken into consideration again. There are jurists who are working make changes to it because at the moment it includes many laws.
With the grace of God, we will manage to finish it. There is nothing better than a specific law for Christians, but it should be placed within a state settlement.
The mentality of young people has changed and become revolutionary. Some of them could push others to adopt mistaken positions…how will the Church communicate with them in the near future?
The first way to approach young people is through dialogue, and no longer monologue (speaking and making yourself listened to while the other person keeps quiet).
In today’s world young people have become rebels against the status quo, against power, against schools, against the home, against high functionaries of the Church…
However, an important clarification is required: all forms of authority can be changed with the exception of paternal authority.
I met a young man who opposed a matter and I asked him: ‘Is it really possible that the Church is dearer to you than it is to me and that in the Holy Synod, which is made up of 115 bishops, there is no living voice and all of them are drugged and asleep?’
Before the referendum on the Constitution, everyone was surprised by the declaration of Pope Tawadros – ‘Yes increases grace’ [in Arabic here there is a play on words between na‘am, ‘yes’, and ni‘am, ‘grace’]. Some people were happy but others were angry that the Church had entered politics.
We took part in the committee for the Constitution and the formulation of number of its articles; we threatened to withdraw when we refused to accept some articles and, once the agreement on the Constitution had been found, how could I say ‘no to the Constitution’ if the Church had said ‘yes’?
I do not force anyone to agree; indeed I say this as an Egyptian citizen who loves this country and not as the Patriarch. Young people need dialogue and not orders…