The annual meeting of bishops from different Churches, animated by the spirituality of the Focolare, is currently underway in Cairo, Egypt (3-8 September). This year, the thirty first such meeting, has included bishops from twenty two Christian Churches from every continent. The choice of Cairo, in this time of painful and uncertain change, adds special significance to the event. This time the bishops wish to testify to their solidarity and closeness to their Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and particularly the Coptic Church in Egypt. They would like their presence to be a sign that, when faced with external difficulties, it is even more imperative that we draw together in unity.
The program includes moments of reflection on the theme “fraternal relationships amidst diversity”, which the Gospel requires in the form of love for neighbour. There are also moments for ecclesial and personal sharing and for liturgical celebrations with the members of their own Christian communities. On Thursday they attended presentations by the president and the co-president of the Focolare Movement, respectively Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti, entitled “To Meet our Neighbour with Love”.
On the first day of the gathering, the small group of bishops who were the animators of the event, visited the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, where they met with Anba Bakhomios, temporarily administrator of the Church until a successor is elected to replace Pope Shenouda III. They had a cordial meeting in the Cathedral of St Mark’s. Anba Bakhomios, in fact, had spoken of the importance of unity and of the centrality of the Cross in the Christian life, especially in the life of the Coptic community. Although it has often been silenced, the life of the Christians of Egypt has been persecuted in many ways throughout the centuries. Nowadays the pressure is often subtle, but insupportable because of the injustice that has led to the murdering of Christians in several violent attacks around the country.
The bishops of the various Churches took the opportunity to thank the Coptic Orthodox Church for its fedelity to the tradition that goes all the way back to Mark the Evangelist, and for its commitment to defending against doctrinal errors and persecutions. The Coptics thanked the bishops for their prayerful presence and support during these difficult times of trial and pain.
Within the context of this experience of ecclesial communion, on Tuesday (4 September), the bishops visited two monasteries three hours away from Cairo, to discover the monastic patrimony of the Coptics that goes back to the third century. Pope Shenouda III, who was so loved by the people, came from this monastic tradition: “The whole experience of these days among the bishops was one of solidarity in action,” affirmed Anba Thomas, who works in the administration of the Church. “The Christians of Egypt have felt the unity of the Christians of the world. It is the Holy Spirit moving among us, and He is demonstrating that if we get to work, and if we trust each other, then unity among Churches will really be possible.” The gathering highlighted the spiritual unity even before the the institutional or theological one. This spiritual aspect remains what is essential, because without it nothing will be possible.
Coming out of the great cathedral building of St Mark’s and from the Coptic Patriarchate, it was difficult not to remember the Arab proverb that says, “Whoever drinks the water of the Nile, will return to Egypt”. And these were the sentiments expressed by Anba Bhakomios when he took leave of Giancarlo Faletti, who assured him of the Focolare’s prayers for the election of the new Coptic Pope: “We’ll invite you; we will invite you,” responded the Administrator of the Coptic Church, seeming to confirm the bond that had really been born among brothers and sisters, members of the one Body of Christ.
By Roberto Catalano