FRI-SAT-SUN     February 25-27, 2000    vol. 11, no. 40    SECTION FOUR

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SECTION FOUR Contents: Go immediately to the article:
  • POPE CELEBRATES MASS IN CAIRO CATHEDRAL
  • HOLY FATHER REACHES OUT TO ORTHODOX CHURCHES FOR UNITY
  • JOHN PAUL II TO VISIT FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNTRY IN HISTORY
  • POPE MAKES HEARTFELT APPEAL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
  • EGYPT'S SHEIK OF AL AZHAR WELCOMES PAPAL VISIT


  • POPE JOHN PAUL II IN EGYPT


    POPE CELEBRATES MASS IN EGYPT'S SPORTS PALACE

    Enthusiastic Participation by Cairo Sudanese Refugees

        VATICAN CITY, FEB 25 (ZENIT).- Today has been the great day of the Catholic Church in Egypt. Bishops, priests, members of communities of the 7 rites that make up this Church, came from all corners of the country to attend a Mass celebrated by John Paul II on his second day in Egypt. Among the participants were Sudanese Christians, who sang their typical songs; they have taken refuge in Egypt because of the Islamization policy of the Khartoum regime.

        For the first time in the land of the Pharaohs, a large-scale Mass was celebrated outside a church in a public place. The huge Sports Palace was made available, free of charge, by the Egyptian government; 20,000 faithful attended the Eucharistic celebration. The enthusiasm when the Pope arrived was nothing short of amazing. The liturgy was that of the Holy Family. The meeting was a journey to rediscover the road taken by the people of Israel from slavery to freedom, analogous to Jesus' journey to Jerusalem to fulfill the Passover of the New Covenant. Finally, the pilgrim Pope addressed the journey God wishes man to make, by showing him the meaning and value of his Covenant.

    The Covenant

        "How beautiful is this Covenant!" the Holy Father exclaimed. "It shows that God does not stop speaking to man in order to give him life in abundance. It places us in the presence of God and is the expression of his profound love for his people. It invites man to turn to God, to allow himself to be touched by God's love and to fulfill the desire for happiness that he bears within himself. If we accept wholeheartedly the tables of the Ten Commandments, we will live fully by the law that God has placed in our hearts and we will have a share in the salvation, which the Covenant made on Mount Sinai between God and his people revealed, and which the Son of God through his work of redemption offers to us."

        Another topic the Pope mentioned to Egyptian Catholics was the unity of Christians. With conviction he said that dialogue and closeness would contribute to find solutions to the problems that today continue to place obstacles to full communion.

    Dialogue with Islam

        In a country where 94% of the population is Muslim and in which some areas or sectors of social life Christians feel the weight of marginalization, the Pope insisted on the need to promote friendly relations with Muslims, and invited all to collaborate in the construction and development of the country. This presupposes the acknowledgment of everyone's rights, including minority communities. "In order to do this common work, which should bring together all the members of the same nation, it is right that everyone, Christians and Muslims, while respecting different religious views, should place their skills at the service of the nation, at every level of society," the Holy Father emphasized.

    The Living Faith

        The liturgy was extremely varied and festive, including typical songs of the various rites: Coptic, Greek, Maronite, Melchite, Syrian, Armenian, and Latin. The gifts were especially significant: Egyptians offered dates, cotton, sugar cane, and doves as a sign of peace; the Sudanese refugees offered a cup, in sign of communion, and an ostrich egg, symbol of fertility. The community of Sudanese refugees is constantly growing in Cairo. Many remembered the stopover that John Paul II made a few years ago; they have always regarded him as a "friend" who has given voice to their sufferings and enslavements.

        Indeed, at the end of the Mass, the Holy Father gave them a special greeting. But his thought traveled to other African countries, which are experiencing dramatic situations, such as Mozambique, devastated by floods, for which he appealed for solidarity from the international community. Or Nigeria, bloodied by conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna. "I have heard with sorrow that in Nigeria a grave focus of tension has caused many dead. I deplore all kinds of violence and I pray so that all the inhabitants of this country will live in fraternity, based on respect for the person and his religious liberty. These values are the only ones that can open a future to the Nigerian nation."

        But today Cairo was festive. Truly a celebration for the Catholic Church in Egypt and for all the country's inhabitants. Tomorrow the Pope will go to Mount Sinai, the mountain of meeting and of the pact with God, with one's brothers, and with the whole of humanity. The Pontiff ended his homily with these words: " May everyone hear the call of the God of the Covenant and discover the joy of being his sons and daughters!" ZE00022506

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    DIALOGUE IS MOST IMPORTANT TOPIC DURING POPE'S FIRST TWO DAYS IN EGYPT

    Proposals To Discuss Ways of Exercising Bishop of Rome's Ministry

        VATICAN CITY, FEB 25 (ZENIT).- The first visit of a Roman Pontiff to Egypt has come to be a trip of alliance, not only because John Paul II came to the land of the Pharaohs to visit the Mount of the Ten Commandments, but also because of the great papal events in Cairo, which have centered on the alliance among men, the dialogue between Islam and Christianity, as well as among Christians themselves, separated by different confessions.

        One of those symbolic moments that characterizes the Holy Father's international trips took place this afternoon: the ecumenical meeting in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt in Cairo. All the leaders of non-Catholic Christian Churches in Egypt were present together with the Holy Father. They were led by Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox, the most numerous Christian confession in the country. Of the 6 million Christians in Egypt, the vast majority belong to the Orthodox Church, successor to the See of Alexandria, which separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Catholics barely number 200,000.

        Given that one of the arguments that continues to separate Catholics and Orthodox is the idea of papal primacy, John Paul II spoke very clearly and directly on this issue. "I repeat what I wrote in my Encyclical Letter 'Ut Unum Sint,' that whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. I therefore wish to renew the invitation to all 'Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church.' "

        Thus the Pontiff put forward once again the idea of seriously discussing the way in which papal primacy is exercised. "With regard to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, I ask the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek together the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned. Dear Brothers, there is no time to lose in this regard!

        His exhortation became more urgent when shortly before ending the meeting, he spontaneously expressed this wish: "May the Spirit of God soon grant us the complete and visible unity for which we yearn!"

    Meeting with the Coptic Orthodox Leader

        Yesterday John Paul II visited the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox patriarchy where he received a very warm welcome. In the presence of a large representation from this Christian community, Pope Shenouda, successor of St. Mark in the See of Alexandria, addressed Peter's successor spontaneously and affectionately, imbued with the profound spirituality that characterizes the faith of the Egyptian Church, which is almost 2000 years old. Shenouda III recalled his meeting with Pope Paul VI in 1973 and the joint doctrinal declaration they signed on that occasion: a great step on the ecumenical road that at the time was not accepted by all the leaders of the Coptic Church.

        John Paul II also improvised his reply. With a smile he said that all those who came with him to Egypt feel at home, since Mark wrote his Gospel for the Romans. After travelling with St. Paul for a time, Mark came to serve Peter. Many say that his Gospel represents primarily the memories of the first Pope.

    Meeting with Grand Imam

        Another key moment in the dialogue the Pope brought to Egypt took place yesterday afternoon when the Holy Father visited Al-Azhar University . For years Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, has cultivated excellent relations with this cultural focal point of Islam. The cordiality of Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi was no pretense. His affirmation of the value of tolerance in Islam, and his proposal for collaboration among the believers of religions to foster peace and understanding among men, are a hope for all those who believe that the great conflicts of the future will take place between Islam and the West. Al-Azhar is the highest cultural and religious authority of Sunni Islam and, yesterday, he declared himself clearly against Islamic fundamentalism. ZE00022507

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    JOHN PAUL II TO VISIT FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNTRY IN HISTORY

    Christian Minority: Direct Descendants of Pharaohs

        VATICAN CITY, FEB 22 (ZENIT).- Despite its claims, France is not the "first-born daughter of the Church." Historically, this claim actually belongs to Egypt, the first Christian country in history.

        The expression "first-born daughter of the Church," was used because the Gauls were the first nation to convert to Christianity in 495, when King Clovis and 30,000 of his warriors embraced the faith. However, a century earlier, Christianity was already the religion of Egypt -- 99.9% of Egyptians converted easily, in spite of the terrible mass martyrdoms that Christians suffered during emperor Diocletian's reign.

        Given this reality, when John Paul II travels to Egypt this Thursday -- where he will visit Cairo and Mount Sinai, where God revealed his name to Moses: "I am Who am," the Pope will not be arriving in a country where Christians are foreigners. On the contrary, Egyptian Christians are the authentic descendants of the pharaohs. Indeed, the name "Copts," as Christians are known in this land, designates the way in which Arabs refer to Egyptians: "Qubt," a contraction of the Greek "Aigyptos."

    Origin of Monasticism

        The Church in Alexandria was founded by the evangelist St. Mark around the year 40. At the end of the 1st century, 20% of the Egyptian population was Christian. By the 2nd century, they constituted 45% of the population, and included distinguished intellectuals like St. Clement and Origen, who were leaders of the Alexandrian theological school. Several edicts were published during the 3rd century, banning Christianity from the land. From 303 to 305, Diocletian organized a bloody persecution that ended in thousands of martyrdoms. The Coptic calendar dates its first year as 284, when Diocletian came to power.

        As usually happens, the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians. During the 4th century, Egypt became the land that witnessed the birth of the first Christian monks in history. The cradle of the hermitic life was the Egyptian desert of the 3rd century. According to St. Jerome's writings, Paul of Thebes -- known as Paul the Hermit, was the founder of the hermitic way of life. The first hermit on whom there is considerable information was St. Anthony of the Desert (250-356), whose biography, "Vita Antonii," was written by St. Athanasius, a text which in no time became a primer of monasticism and spirituality, and had much influence on the Fathers of the Church, including St. Augustine, and contributed to the growth of monasticism.

        After Christians suffered great upheavals, especially in 389, Theodosius promulgated an edict in 392, which made Christianity the state religion and closed pagan temples.

        In 451, following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church in Alexandria was divided. This date marks the birth of the Coptic Monophysite Church -- to which the majority of Egyptian Christians belong. A minority -- the "Chalcedonites" remained faithful to Rome. Today's Coptic Orthodox, the heirs of this split, explain that they never actually held the Monophysite heresy (that Christ had no human nature -- only divine). Instead, they held (and hold) that the human and divine natures of Christ combined to form one "Christ nature."

        The Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt, which took place between 639 and 642, found Christians divided into 3 million Copts and 200,000 Chalcedonites. Since then, there has been a very complex coexistence between Muslims and Christians. Between 829 and 831, several monasteries were destroyed because of Christians' dissatisfaction with tax regulations. The Fatimid dynasty of the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries included several Christian Ministers, although the reign of Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021) was darkened by the destruction of churches. The year 1219 is of special interest, because it records St. Francis of Assisi's meeting with Sultan Ayubida al-Kamel.

        Christians did not enjoy juridical and fiscal equality until 1866. And in 1908 -- for the first time in history -- a Copt was head of government. Christians were marginalized once again following Nasser's revolution; he imposed a unified program of religious teaching in all schools. Since 1992 the Egyptian Muslim fundamentalists have carried out repeated bloody attacks against the Christian community.

        At present, official statistics tend to minimize the number of Christians. The 1986 census recorded a total of 3.3 million, but the local churches, which base their information on baptismal records, report a figure closer to 10 million faithful. In part the difference is due to the fact that in Egypt there is a large number of crypto-Christians -- faithful who because of social pressures, declare themselves Muslims. Today Christians probably number 6 million, or 10% of the 64 million inhabitants. This means that one out of every two Eastern Christians has Egyptian nationality.

        In a country where Islam is the state religion, Copts have difficulty in obtaining key positions in society. Rarely are Copts found in important political posts. Over recent years, the Coptic Churches have tenaciously opposed the government in this area, but the latter has been pressured by fundamentalists to adopt Islamic laws, including the amputation of hands for theft and the death penalty for apostasy of Islam.

        The geographic areas of Christian concentration are Upper Egypt (the southern part of the country), where the Christian population reaches 35%, as well as the outskirts of Cairo and Alexandria.

        At present the Coptic Orthodox Church embraces 93% of Egyptian Christians. Their leader is Pope Shenouda III, 117th successor of St. Mark, who was exiled to a monastery in 1981 by President Sadat, where he remained in "guarded liberty" until 1985. He has made a great effort to encourage the rebirth of Egyptian monasticism and favor ecumenical dialogue. He met Pope Paul VI in 1973.

        The Catholic Coptic Church is one of the smallest Catholic communities in the East. The patriarchy was born officially in 1895, although since 1741 Apostolic Vicars have succeeded one another to lead the few thousand Copts who have converted to Catholicism. Today the Church has some 200,000 faithful and, since 1986, is led by Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas. Since 1959, the Brothers of St. Mark's Preaching -- of Dominican inspiration -- have played a special role, as has a Coptic branch of the Franciscans.

        In addition to these two Churches, Egypt has communities of Latin Catholics (150 male religious, including Jesuits, Salesians, and Christian Brothers, and 800 women, especially of the Combonian Congregation. The Greek-Catholic Church has some 9,000 members of Syrian, Lebanese, or Palestinian origin, and the Maronite Church includes faithful of Lebanese origin who arrived in Egypt in the 19th century because of the religious freedom the country enjoyed. ZE00022201

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    POPE MAKES HEARTFELT APPEAL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

    "To Promote Violence and Conflict in the Name of Religion is a Terrible Contradiction"

        VATICAN CITY, FEB 24 (ZENIT).- John Paul II began his visit to Egypt as a pilgrim in Moses' footsteps with a heartfelt appeal that "all the peoples of this unique area of the world will see their rights respected and their legitimate aspirations fulfilled."

        The Holy Father's words were preceded by sincere praise for the politics of this country, led by Hosni Mubarak, whom the Pope congratulated for his commitment to peace in this nation, as well as for his role in the promotion of peace in the Middle East.

        The first welcome of a Pope to Egypt was characterized by a denunciation of all forms of religious fundamentalism. "To do harm, to promote violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible contradiction and a great offence against God. But past and present history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion."

        Egypt, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, received the Bishop of Rome in a climate of festivity. He was welcomed at the airport by the highest civilian and religious authorities of the country. Among them was President Hosni Mubarak; the highest Muslim authority Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque and University, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi; Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas.

        The welcoming ceremony took place in Cairo's international airport, where the Pope's plane landed just after 2 p.m. local time. This visit broke with tradition a bit, because the official meeting with President Mubarak took place not in the presidential palace, but in the airport's presidential pavilion.

        This is Karol Wojtyla's second visit to Egypt. His first was in 1963, when he traveled to Cairo with a group of participants in Vatican Council II.

        "We must all work to strengthen the growing commitment to inter-religious dialogue, a great sign of hope for the peoples of the world," the Holy Father said as he began his fifth trip to an Arab country. He emphasized his words by recalling the tradition of peaceful coexistence among different religions for which Egypt is noted. "This is the land of a 5000-year old civilization known throughout the world for its monuments and for its knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. This is the land where different cultures met and mingled, making Egypt famous for its wisdom and learning."

        In Egypt, differences "of religion were never barriers, but a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community." In fact, the "people of Egypt have for centuries pursued the ideal of national unity." To stress this idea, the Pope quoted the words of Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, who in the 80s was exiled by the regime in power: "'Egypt is not the native land in which we live, but the native land which lives in us.' "

        Given the above, the Holy Father went on to say, "The unity and harmony of the nation are a precious value that all citizens should cherish, and which political and religious leaders must continually promote in justice and respect for the rights of all."

        "As-salám 'aláikum," John Paul II said in bidding farewell. "Peace be with you." And he added: "This is my greeting to you all. This is the prayer I offer up for Egypt and all her people. May the Most High God bless your land with harmony, peace and prosperity."

        In the afternoon, Pope John Paul II, the Successor of St. Peter, met with Pope Shenouda III, the Successor of St. Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria. The Pope's next visit was to the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the world, Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar. Tomorrow morning the Holy Father will preside at a Mass for Egyptian Catholics in Cairo's Sports Palace. In the afternoon, he will attend an ecumenical meeting in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt. And finally on Saturday, one of his cherished dreams will come true: he will go to Sinai, visit St. Catherine's Monastery, where he will commemorate God's revelation of his name to Moses and the handing of the Ten Commandments. ZE00022404

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    EGYPT'S SHEIK OF AL AZHAR WELCOMES PAPAL VISIT

        CAIRO (CWNews.com/Fides) - Egypt's leading Muslim religious leader said this week that he welcomes Pope John Paul II's visit to Egypt which begins on Thursday, calling the Pontiff a defender of peace, love, and morality.

        The Sheik of Al Azhar, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, said: "The Pope is a man of intelligence and wisdom, who defends peace, love, and moral values and encourages the propagation of virtues." Tantawi is the leader of the world's Sunni Muslims, the largest branch of Islam. He will meet with the Holy Father on Thursday.

        The Sheik of Al Azhar, who is known to be affable and tolerant, had refused to grant a statement on the papal visit to journalists, but agreed to give the Vatican news service Fides a written statement. In his message, written in Arabic, the Sheik explained: "We welcome with joy the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Egypt and Al Azhar ... God, the all merciful, created us in this life so we may know each other and open our hearts to harmony and agreement." He quoted a passage of the Koran: "O humanity, we created you man and woman and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another."

        The Sheik also explained that dialogue is part of the duties of a Muslim and is the authentic Islamic sharia law "for the good of humanity and the propagation of virtues sustained by all religions. Dialogue between religions allows us to listen to each other, to learn about and compare ideas which commit us in love, truth and justice." But he also warned about "dogmatic dialogue" which "can only widen the gap between the interlocutors. Only God can speak of dogma."

        "For Islam all humanity came from the same parents [Adam and Eve]," the Al Azhar Sheik said. "The Pope's efforts for peace, love, and moral values and virtues are precisely the goal of all the revealed religions."

        He added, "For our part we wish and work for the propagation of peace and security in the world. The leaders of world religions must work together so peace, security, and love may reign among mankind".

        Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said: "We must thank God for this historical encounter between the Holy Father and the Sheik of Al Azhar. The meeting is an indication of the right path for Muslims and Christians. We must come together, listen to each other, and try to build a better world under God's guidance. In religion it is essential to listen to God and communicate with neighbor."

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    February 25-27, 2000     volume 11, no. 40
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