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Pope Tawadros II: Mohammad bin Salman’s Meetings Encompass 'A Lot of Hope'

Pope Tawadros II: Mohammad bin Salman’s Meetings Encompass 'A Lot of Hope'

Wednesday, 5 December, 2018 - 08:00
Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, receives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Cairo, March 5, 2018, in this picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency (Reuters)
Cairo - Faisal Abbas

In 1969, the news of the first human footstep on the lunar surface drew the attention of a 16-year-old Egyptian boy, Wajih Sobhi Baki Sulaiman. He wrote a letter to US Astronaut Neil Armstrong and asked him for an autograph.

A few weeks later, an envelope containing a colored and signed image of the landing on the moon was delivered to the boy. For a teenager in a remote area in a developing country like Egypt, what happened was a miracle.

Today, for more than 100 million Egyptians and for the whole world, Wajih is known as “His Holiness Pope Tawadros II,” the 185th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

At his headquarters in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbasid region of Cairo, he talked to Arab News, in an interview published simultaneously by Asharq Al-Awsat.

Tawadros became Pope in November 2012, shortly after the collapse of Husni Mubarak’s regime, followed by the short rule of the Muslim Brotherhood which ended with the emergence of ISIS.

In the past few years, not only Copts suffered from the repercussions of regional upheavals, but also Christians throughout the area. In fact, the situation was so alarming that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the recent Mediterranean Dialogue Conference in Rome called for an effort to protect Christians in the Middle East.

Pope Tawadros agrees that the situation is alarming and warns that emptying the Middle East from Christians “poses a great danger to stability and peace.”

“This emptying act is against nature,” the pope says, adding that recent attacks on Copts and their places of worship are an attack on Egyptian unity

“Our regions have been established with the existence of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. What happened in some countries like Syria and Iraq is painful,” he added.

But Pope Tawadros’ fears go beyond that of Christians. He considers that weakening Arab states means “weakening all Arabs ... Christians and Muslims alike.”

However, when it comes to his native country, the pope appears to be a little more optimistic.

“If you read history, you will find that the Lebanese began to emigrate three centuries ago. However, Christians in Egypt began to emigrate only fifty years ago, because of the circumstances that existed at the time... When the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt (2012-2013), Christians feared for their lives and fled the country. But when the country regained its stability, many returned. Christian emigration rates have significantly dropped,” he explains.

While the pope admits that terrorist attacks against the Christians in his country were painful, he stresses that the goal is not the Copts themselves or their churches, but “Egyptian unity.”

Commenting on the Palestinian file, Pope Tawadros stresses that Palestine is an occupied country. He says he hopes “the spirit of understanding will prevail between Israelis and Palestinians so that Jerusalem can be a capital for both states and peace reigns in the region.”

A year ago, he canceled a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence in protest against Washington’s decision to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem. In a statement, the Coptic Church said the US decision did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arabs.

Earlier this year, Pope Tawadros received an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia after a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the latter’s official visit to Cairo.

He says he personally follows the “positive developments” taking place in the Kingdom, noting that the crown prince’s meetings with religious, political and cultural figures around the world encompass “a lot of hope” are “in the interest of Saudi Arabia and contribute to human development.”

As for his upcoming visit to the Kingdom, Pope Tawadros confirms that it will take place, but does not give a specific time. “It will be made when God wills,” he says.

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