Print Version    Email to Friend
An ecumenical pilgrim in Egypt

VATICAN (SE): Father Rafic Greiche described the recent visit of Pope Francis to the land of pharaohs and pyramids as a great blessing to the whole of Egypt, both Muslim and Christian.
“It boosted the morale of the Egyptian people, especially after the Palm Sunday blasts,” the spokesperson for the Catholic bishops of Egypt said.
However, the one event that stole the limelight in the media was the peace conference organised by the Al Azhar University, but while it was a big media hit, Islam Al-Behairy, who has done time in prison for criticising the seat of Islamic wisdom in Cairo, said it may not have as much effect on the ground as it had in the clouds of cyberspace.
But Pope Francis did not only come to Egypt as a pilgrim of peace, he also came as an ecumenical and interfaith pilgrim, seeking a further understanding and warming of relations with the Islamic community and a continuation of the process begun 40 years ago by his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, and his Coptic Orthodox counterpart, Pope Shenouda III, when their embrace ended centuries of total estrangement on 10 May 1973.
In a speech prior to the signing of a Common Declaration of His Holiness Francis and His Holiness Tawadros II with the current Coptic pope and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, Pope Francis recalled the declaration signed by the two leaders over 40 years ago with whose words the See of Mark and the See of Peter jointly proclaimed the lordship of Jesus and together confessed to belonging to the same Jesus who is our all.
But most importantly, Father Samir said that in the signing of the common declaration the leaders of the Latin and Coptic sees agreed to the mutual recognition of baptism, which in a land that witnesses many marriages between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox, is a big step in bridging the gaps between them.
The Common Declaration says, “Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace.”
It then continues, “Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being.”
The Declaration recognises a shared concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt, as the whole of society has the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation and enjoy full and equal citizenship.
It calls this the only way that the collaboration needed to build up the nation can happen, as religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, must be deeply rooted in the dignity of the person.
This it describes as being the cornerstone of all freedoms.
While the Common Declaration has been widely hailed as a huge step forward, the peace conference at the Al Azhar University was always going to be somewhat controversial.
Prior to the arrival of the pope in Cairo, the university had come under criticism for its indecisive attitude in some of its courses towards the aberrant ideologies adopted by Jihadist terrorism.
Al-Behairy was critical of Grand Iman Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the head of the university, for citing postmodern ideology and the arms trade for the irrational violence that is plaguing the Middle East and areas beyond.
Al-Behairy said that he cannot see anything postmodern in its throwback ideology and that it is some texts in classical Islamic jurisprudence that are inspiring people to kill and immolate themselves.
In the same way that he pointed out religion had nothing to do with the Crusades or the World Wars, he said that it has nothing to do with the Islamic State and to believe otherwise is dangerous, as it would mean that the state can never do anything to bring an end to the violence.
However, Tarek Mitri, the former minister for culture in Lebanon, saw the iman differently. An old classmate from the days the two spent at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Mitri described his address before Pope Francis as a logic of confrontation between faith and modern nihilism.
“I believe he is inhabited by concern to make the religious message plausible, credible, in the eyes of modern people. He is aware that there is a modernity that causes anxiety in the Muslim world,” Mitri said of Al-Tayeb.
Although the world is probably not destined to see a cessation to the violence in a big hurry, there was general agreement that the visit by the pope was much more than a gesture and that a substantive progress in mutual understanding will lead to closer and more positive relations in areas often characterised by deep misunderstanding and mistrust.

More from this section