Pope Francis yesterday prayed for “full unity” with the Coptic Orthodox Church as he received Patriarch of Alexandria Tawadros II for an historic visit in the latest sign of closer ties between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds.
“Our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity,” Francis told Coptic Orthodox leader Tawadros at their meeting in the Vatican.
“We long for the day when, in fulfilment of the Lord’s desire, we will be able to communicate from the one chalice,” he said, acknowledging that there had been “centuries of mutual distrust” between their two Christian churches.
This was the first such meeting in 40 years.
Tawadros’ predecessor Shenouda III visited the Vatican in 1973 to meet Pope Paul VI and the two had launched a process of dialogue between Catholics and Copts, and Pope John Paul II also visited Shenouda in Egypt in 2000.
The four-day visit by Tawadros was the high-point of a tour of Europe.
Copts account for up to 10% of the population in Egypt, where sectarian tensions have increased since the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Copts have been critical of President Mohamed Mursi’s leadership and a new constitution seen as favourable to Islamists. Clashes between Copts and Muslims have left dozens dead in Egypt.
Tawadros last month accused Mursi of “negligence” over the worst inter-religious clashes since he came to power in June.
Tawadros said tensions had reached a “level of chaos”, prompting Mursi to call on him to condemn the violence.
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