February 25-27, 2000
volume 11, no. 40
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Speaking of location...it was the only way we could seque out of the gutter and all the triyst on the aforementioned stiphling trifles. Did you realize that we might today be known as the Church of Alexandria instead of the Church of Rome? That is because the Evangelist Saint Mark founded the Church in Alexandria, Egypt in 40 A.D. roughly twenty years before the Apostle Saint Peter established the Church in Rome. But, because Our Lord proclaimed Simon Bar Jona as the chosen one to lead His Church, what Peter bound on earth was bound in Heaven (cf. Matthew 16: 18). We bring this up for it coincides with Peter's successor - John Paul II in Egypt this weekend, the second leg of his historic "Jubilee Journey" in retracing Salvation History chronologically.
While there are less than five percent of Christians in Egypt today compared with 95% Sunni Muslims, it wasn't always that way. Dating back to the fourth century Christianity was the religion of Egypt, a full century before King Clovis and the Franks converted to Christianity and were proclaimed the "first-born daughter of the Church." In fact, as ZENIT discloses, despite all the martyrdoms during the terrible reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian nearly all of the Egyptians converted to Christianity. In fact, it is no secret that the Coptic Christians are direct descendants of the ancient pharaohs and these descendants embraced a new faith with 20% of the total population being Christian by the end of the first century, and 45% by the end of the second thanks to great men like Saint Clement and the intellectual spiritual giant Origen. True to Tertullian's words, "The blood of the martyrs has become the seeds of Christianity" for persecutions were rampant in Egypt and this gave birth to a new movement in Egypt in the third century - the hermetical life founded by Saint Paul of Thebes in which thousands made their exodus from areas of possible persecution to the safe refuge of the deserts and mountains to practice their faith in a strict, penitent manner, most notably among these Saint Antony of Egypt. A century later this evolved into the advent of Christian monks, still another century ahead of Saint Benedict, considered the "Father of Western Monasticism." It was also the time of Saint Athanasius and the greatest of Egyptian saints - the esteemed Saint Augustine.
It was shortly after Augustine's death that the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion just as Constantine did some seventy-five years earlier in Rome. With this edict given in 392, the pagan temples and monuments were closed. This included many pyramids, still used in those times as meeting places. In the mid fifth century the first split sealed Egypt's fate when, after the the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon which declared against the heretic Eutyches and condemned Monophysitism, there arose a fued which caused the Coptic Monophysite Church to split from Rome and which today remains still split from the Church and numbers the majority of Christians in Egypt. The Chalcedon Coptic or Coptic Catholic Church, in the minority then and today, has remained loyal to the Vicar of Christ.
The collapse of the Christian stronghold in Egypt came in the seventh century when the prophet Mohammed introduced a new religions - Islam, ushering in the Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt which is stronger than ever today. Christianity was practically wiped out in this land of ancient sphynxes and pyramids over the ensuing centuries and the Crusades resurrected some Christian strongholds but not enough to stick. ZENIT has an excellent article we carry in this weekend's NEWS & VIEWS with a Catholic slant which we encourage you to read to discover more about this fascinating land, statistics, and why this second leg of the Holy Father's Papal Pilgrimage is so important in bridging the gap between Christian and Muslim. No Sovereign Pontiff in the history of the Church has been received more warmly by the Islam world than John Paul II and this is a definite plus in dialogue with Muslim leaders. In fact, there is more of a rapport, strange though it may seem, between the Roman Catholic Church and Muslim leaders than between the Holy See and the Eastern Orthodox sects including the Coptic Orthodox Church which has possession of the St. Catherine's Monastery the Holy Father will travel to on Saturday before and after ascending to the site believed to be where the burning bush was located on Mount Sinai.
Egypt has run the gamut from being totally pagan during the Pharonic age to practically completely Christian during the early years of the Church to today being almost entirely Muslim. The Pope's visit can only increase the odds of returning both respect and interest in Jesus Christ to this land that has encountered much turmoil between Christian and Arab in the last fifty years where fundamentalist Moslims have sought to totally wipe out any semblance of Christianity not only in Egypt but in many, many countries throughout the rest of Africa. Because of the fate of a great Egyptian Anwar Sadat by those extreme fundamentalists and the threats on his predecessor Gammar Abdul Nasser's life, we must pray all the harder that the angels will protect His Holiness this weekend because of all the unrest and bring him safely back to Rome to continue his "Jubilee Journey" next month after having completed the Pentateuch part of his spiritual journey. We say this because the sands of time have not been kind to Christians and from the Sahara to the Arabian Desert the echoes ring out to take care and pray for the Holy Father, for he has ventured into a land of the unknown, and like Moses - whose footsteps the Pope seeks to follow - discovered: danger always lurks in this land of enigma called Egypt.
For previous editorials this year, go to PAST CATHOLIC PewPOINTS
February 25-27, 2000 |
volume 11, no. 40
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