Egypt – “An ecumenical watershed”


Interview with Bishop Anba Kyrillos William Samaan, Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Assiut

Your Excellency, recently Pope Francis and the Coptic-Orthodox Pope Tawadros II met in Rome. Did this represent an ecumenical watershed between the two Churches? 

Bishop Kyrillos: “Yes, you can really call it that. Pope Tawadros has shown from the very beginning that he wishes to come closer to the other Churches. Just after the election of Pope Francis he pushed for a meeting on 10 May. That is the 40th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III. Now it isn’t easy to obtain an audience in the Vatican at short notice. But great efforts were made to meet Tawadros’ wishes. I think that this really is a watershed. Tawadros is quite different from his predecessor Shenouda as far as the ecumenical movement is concerned.”

In what way?

Bishop Kyrillos: “On the one hand the Coptic Pope Shenouda wanted to visit the Roman Pope Paul VI in the Vatican in 1973. But he soon feared that the ecumenical movement would confuse the faithful and that they would no longer place any value on their denominational affiliation. He therefore wanted nothing to do with the local Catholic Church. One prime encumbrance on the relationship between the two Churches in Egypt is the matter of recognition of Catholic baptism. Catholics who convert to the Coptic Church in order to get married, for example, have to be rebaptized.”

Do you anticipate any movement here?

Bishop Kyrillos: “Yes. Pope Tawadros said this himself. Pope Shenouda demanded rebaptism because he was of the opinion that unity in faith was a condition for recognising Catholic baptism. He quoted the Epistle to the Ephesians, where there is talk of one Lord, one faith and one baptism. The difficulty will be that there are still many of Shenouda’s adherents in the Coptic synod. But there are also Bishops who have gone along with Shenouda’s line on rebaptism for reasons of obedience and not conviction. I cannot therefore risk a prediction that the line will change. But my impression is that the Pope’s cordial nature and the openness of Tawadros’s curia representatives and his companions, including also disciples of Shenouda, have made a positive impact.”

Can we say that the problems Christians experience at present in Egypt have resulted in an ecumenical rapprochement?

Bishop Kyrillos: “Yes, quite definitely. When the revolution broke out two years ago spontaneous consultations arose between us Catholics and the Orthodox Church as well as Protestants. We wanted to speak with one voice. In institutional terms this rapprochement has had an impact on the Council of Egypt’s Churches.”

Do you think that the ecumenical rapprochement will come to an end at the latest with the question of the Pope’s primacy?

This interview was conducted by Oliver Maksan, ACN International

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