As the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches mark fifty years since the first modern meeting between their leaders, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II have penned a joint preface for a new book.
Set to hit bookshelves on Wednesday, the book is entitled “The Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. 50th Anniversary of the Meeting between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III (1973-2023)”.
The preface, released on Tuesday, traces the path of dialogue which led to that historic encounter and the fruits which it has borne over the last half century.
Ongoing journey towards full communion
The two Popes begin the preface by expressing the desire of their Churches to “journey towards full communion”, while also recalling the progress that has been made thus far.
“We also need to give thanks to God by remembering the steps already taken and the distance already travelled, which are often much more important than we imagine,” they write, adding that this recollection of history represents the purpose of the book.
Pope Paul VI met with Pope Shenouda III in the Vatican on 9-13 May 1973, the first such meeting between “a Bishop of Rome and a Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church” in over 1,000 years, during which they signed the landmark Joint Christological Declaration.
The declaration crowned years of ecumenical and theological dialogue between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches following the Second Vatican Council.
It also marked the end of the Christological controversy which had arisen in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Growing mutual understanding
The meeting between Paul VI and Shenouda III continued to bear fruit in ecumenical relations, including the creation of the Joint International Commission between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Commission’s work, note Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, led to the signing of the Principles for Guiding the Search for Unity between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1979 between Shenouda III and John Paul II.
“This commission in turn paved the way for the foundation, in 2003, of the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire family of Oriental Orthodox Churches, a dialogue that has already produced important documents testifying to the growing understanding between our Churches,” say the two leaders.
United in fraternal love and friendship
Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II also recall their first meeting, which took place in Rome on 10 May 2013, a date which they established as the annual “Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics”.
The two Popes conclude their preface by expressing their hopes that the ecumenical journey between their two Churches might continue to bear fruit in response to Christ’s prayer “that they may all be one”.
“May the fraternal love and friendship that unite our Churches continue to grow until the blessed and longed-for day when we can celebrate together at the same Altar and receive from the same chalice, ‘so that the world may believe’!”