February 25, 2001
volume 12, no. 56

Keeping the Spirit of the Jubilee Alive

One Year Ago Today


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

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

February 25, 2001
volume 12, no. 56
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