Following his trip to Egypt last month, Pope Francis sent a message Wednesday to the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Tawadros II, expressing his hope that their Churches will continue to work toward unity in the sacraments.
“Along this path we are sustained by the powerful intercession and example of the martyrs. May we continue to advance together on our journey towards the same Eucharistic table, and grow in love and reconciliation,” Pope Francis said in his letter to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch May 10.
“I take this opportunity to offer my prayerful best wishes for your peace and health, as well as my joy and gratitude for the spiritual bonds uniting the See of Peter and the See of Mark.”
Pope Francis’ message marked the fourth anniversary of his meeting with Tawadros II in Rome on May 10, 2013; the day has become an annual celebration of fraternal love between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.
Pope Francis and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch also met April 28 during Francis’ two-day trip to Cairo. During the encounter, the two signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”
In his letter to the patriarch, Francis thanked the leader for his hospitality and for the common prayer they shared during the meeting.
He also noted, in particular, the agreement made that both Churches would acknowledge the validity of baptisms performed in the other Church.
Quoting from the statement, Francis said he is “especially grateful that we have strengthened our baptismal unity in the body of Christ by declaring together ‘that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.’ Our bonds of fraternity ‘challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’.”
The Pope also gave assurance of his continued prayers for Tawadros II and for peace in Egypt and the Middle East. He called on the Holy Spirit, especially during the Easter season, to “fill our hearts with his grace and kindle in them the fire of his love.”
“May the Spirit of peace bestow on us an increase of hope, friendship and harmony,” he continued.
He concluded the letter saying that “with these sentiments, on this special occasion which has rightly become known as the day of friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, I exchange with Your Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace in Christ our Lord.”
The Coptic Orthdox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.
The May 2013 meeting between Francis and Tawadros marked the first visit of a Coptic Orthodox patriarch to Rome in 40 years. Shenouda III, Tawadros’ predecessor, visited Bl. Paul VI in 1973, and St. John Paul II returned the visit to Egypt in 2000.