His Beatitude, Ibrahim Issac Sidrak, Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria gave Catholic Outlook journalist Jordan Grantham the privilege of an exclusive interview.
The Coptic Catholic Church stands at the global meeting point of East and West, Catholic and Orthodox, Christian and Muslim. Egypt is riven by terrorist violence today, besmirching her noble heritage from Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire and St Mark the Evangelist, first Patriarch of Alexandria.
Pope Francis made an historic visit to Egypt late April 2017. This visit to the largest country in the Arab world was an overwhelming sign of peace for the small Coptic Catholic community, who are lead by His Beatitude, Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria.
“It was a great joy for me to welcome Pope Francis on his apostolic visit to Egypt. And it was a great honour and comfort for all the Catholics in Egypt,” His Beatitude, Ibrahim Sidrak told Catholic Outlook.
“Despite the small number of Catholics in Egypt, our Church is very dynamique thanks to its social activities in many fields: schools, hospitals.”
His Beautitude is no stranger to Australia or the Diocese of Parramatta, having visited in February 2016 and meeting with the then-Diocesan Administrator, Very Rev Peter G Williams VG EV.
Religious orders such as the Jesuits, Franciscans and women’s congregations largely established the Church’s network of 165 schools and approximately 10 hospitals and many clinics.
“This short visit had a great impact which we can still feel as it showed the esteem of Pope Francis for Egypt. It is all the more encouraging at a time when our country must take up many challenges.”
The Holy Father continues to hold Egypt close to his heart, as shown in his last Angelus address for 2017, where he prayed for the souls of victims and the conversion of terrorists in another attack on Christians.
Despite the relatively modest size of the Coptic Catholic Church, the See of St Mark the Evangelist dates to apostolic times, making the Patriarch one of the most senior Catholic Archbishops in the world.
The Church of Alexandria began to separate from the Church of Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The Roman Catholic Patriarchate has existed since the 18th century, as part of the Catholic mission to unite all Christians.
Patriarch Sidrak feels a strong personal connection to bridging the divide between East and West.
“I love very much Saint Augustine [of Hippo] who makes the link between East and West,” he said.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit has already borne great fruit in the re-establishment of relations between the Holy See and the Grand Mosque of Al-Azhar, whose Imam is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.
“Pope Francis began his stay in Cairo by a visit at Al-Azhar. The meeting at Al-Azhar was very friendly and the cordial encounter of Pope Francis with the great Cheikh of Al Azhar was all the more important as it revived the dialogue which Al-Azhar had cut with Vatican,” Patriarch Sidrak said.
“Since then, the Pope and the great Cheikh have met twice. And it was very encouraging at a time when terrorism is acting in all this area.
“The other important visit for Pope Francis was his very friendly meeting with Pope Tawadros [II of Alexandria]. It has strengthened the relationship between the officials of the two communities and this is very important for the future.”
“The loving simplicity of Pope Francis impressed everyone.”
Patriarch Sidrak described the close cooperation that exists between Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim.
“Despite many difficulties (fear – fanaticism – defiance – selfishness) the Holy Spirit pushes us to have closer relationships between Orthodox and Catholics; they are paving steps towards the unity for which Jesus prayed,” he said.
“The terrorist attacks are mainly targeting the security forces, sometimes the Christians and they don’t even spare the Moslems as shows the bombing of a North Sinaï mosque a few days ago,” which took place on November 24, 2017.
“The reasons behind these attacks are that those whom they attack are considered by them as infidels and people who are backing the President. There are no problems in the daily communal life of Christians and Moslems.”
His Beatitude also spoke of the great blessing of the Coptic diaspora around the world, whose members are exemplars of faith and family.
“I wish them to deepen their Christian faith and to be faithful to their Oriental tradition. At the same time, they must get integrated in the society in which they live. That will mutually enrich both of them,” he said.
“They must keep the unity of the family, respecting marriage and family life which is the basic cell of Church and Society.”