Pope Francis has expressed his solidarity with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church on Friday, during an historic meeting with the Church’s leader, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.
Francis spoke of the strong bonds that exist between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox church and paid tribute to Coptic martyrs and others who have “borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity.”
“If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” Pope Francis said, quoting St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Holy Father referred to “an ecumenism of suffering” in which the sharing of daily trials “can become an effective instrument of unity.”
From that shared suffering, he added, “can blossom forth forgiveness and reconciliation, with God’s help.”
Egypt’s Christians, who have had to live with widespread discrimination for centuries, have faced increasing attacks from Islamist groups since the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011 and the election of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2012.
Last month, St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo – the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church – came under attack from an Islamist mob and security forces, leading to the deaths of two Christians. Bomb attacks, forced conversions of Christians, and other sectarian conflicts have also been on the rise.
But statements on the political situation in Egypt were kept to a minimum at the meeting, reportedly in a bid to lessen tensions back home. The low-key approach was also said to be aimed at avoiding last year’s controversy with Al Azhar university following Benedict XVI’s condemnation of the 2011 New Year’s Eve bomb attack on a church in Alexandria.
That last line is telling. When you condemn bullying Muslim thugs for blowing up innocent people, they throw temper tantrums when you name them as bullying Muslim thugs and beat up more innocent people. So Francis took a slightly different tack. There’s no point in taking a vocal stand that other people have to pay for with their lives. So he gets the same message out (Egypt’s Islamists are bullying, murderous Muslim thugs) but in a way less likely to give those bullying Muslim thugs a rationale for killing more innocents.
50 years from now, we will be told that Francis was “silent” in the face of Islamic persecution and was “Islam’s Pope”. Any stigma will do to beat a dogma.