Pope Francis with Pope Tawadros during his journey to Egypt in 2017 Pope Francis with Pope Tawadros during his journey to Egypt in 2017 

Coptic Pope to visit Rome to mark 50 years since historic Coptic-Catholic agreement

As Pope Tawadros II prepares to travel to Rome to meet Pope Francis, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London speaks to Vatican News about the "great love and respect" between the two leaders.

By Joseph Tulloch

Exactly fifty years ago, the heads of the Coptic Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches signed a historic Christological agreement, putting an end to a 1,500-year old theological controversy and ushering in a new era of Coptic-Catholic relations. 

To mark the occasion, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, will be in Rome this week. 

He will speak at Pope Francis’ General Audience on Wednesday – the first time the head of another Church has done so – and pray with him privately on Thursday. On Sunday, he will preside over a Liturgy in the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Pope’s official cathedral. 

At his side throughout the week will be Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of London. 

He spoke to Vatican News about the upcoming visit, stressing that the initial encounter in 1973 between the two Popes was “pivotal” to the ecumenical movement.

Archbishop Angaelos also described the “great love and respect” between the current leaders of the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches. 

The following transcript has been lightly edited for reasons of style and brevity.

Joseph Tulloch, Vatican News: What was the significance of the first meeting of the two Popes, in 1973? 

Archbishop Angaelos: Of course, the meeting in 1973 was quite a pioneering meeting. We take for granted our ecumenical relationships now between a variety of Churches, and forget that 50, 60 years ago the world was very different.

There weren't as many ecumenical relationships. To actually forge not only a relationship but come to an agreement on Christology was groundbreaking, and it was pivotal to much of the ecumenical work that is still being done until today. 

Q: And what about this new visit? 

This current visit is to mark the 50th anniversary of that first Christological agreement that was signed between the late Pope Shenouda III and the late Pope Paul VI.

I was blessed enough to be with His Holiness, Pope Tawadros ten years ago, in 2013, when we went and we marked the 40th anniversary. So to be able to be with His Holiness again this time, and mark the 50th anniversary is a real blessing. And it is a way of seeing how all of this is developing in a way that is very positive.

Sometimes we try to just find unity on bare minimal things – we can and we do things together on the ground and in terms of pastoral care. But to have an agreement on the nature of Christ, and to say that we as Churches, as ancient Churches of Rome and Alexandria, agree on the model of Christology in the Incarnate Word, being fully human and fully divine, that is pivotal to a lot of the theological understanding that is still being worked on today.

Q: You mentioned the step forward in ecumenical relations that came from the first visit. Are you hopeful that this visit, too, will be a step forward?

I think it will lead to greater cooperation and greater understanding. I don't think there is anything going to be anywhere near as significant as signing another Christological agreement. But I do think it's important that we continue relationships.

There is a great love and respect mutually between His Holiness, Pope Francis and His Holiness, Pope Tawadros. Whenever I've had the wonderful opportunity of being in Rome, His Holiness Pope Francis will always very warmly ask me to convey his greetings to his brother and his friend, Pope Tawadros. So that's always very nice. So yes, I think it will be another step towards greater understanding and friendship. 

Q: There's also the liturgy at the Lateran Basilica – that’s going to be quite a big event, I think?

So, this upcoming visit by His Holiness, Pope Tawadros, is going to be split into three major sections. One is the Vatican visit to mark the 50th anniversary of the Christological Agreement. The second is a pastoral visit to the Diocese of Rome and its affiliated regions. And that's, as you say, where there's going to be a liturgy for the faithful. And the third will be a pastoral visit to the Diocese of Milan and its affiliated regions. 

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would add one thing. It's very important for us to distinguish between Christological agreements, theological agreements [on the one hand], and ongoing relationships, fraternal relationships and cooperation [on the other].

I think many people become very confused about the nature of conversation, and they fear and are anxious about conversation leading to agreement and flawed agreements, whereas in actual fact, having a conversation can just mean it is an ongoing fraternal relationship that is built upon witnessing to our Lord Jesus Christ in the world and recognising our differences, but trying to work together on that with which we can witness for.

Listen to our interview with Archbishop Angaelos

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08 May 2023, 12:03