[Lambeth Palace] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has assured Christians and Muslims in Egypt that all who strive for peace and reconciliation in the region “are not forgotten.”
In Cairo, on the first day of his visit to Egypt and the Holy Land, the archbishop met with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the head of Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, among other leaders.
Visiting Egypt at the invitation of the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, president bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the archbishop told Egyptian Christian leaders that “the prayers and solidarity of the Anglican Communion” are with them.
The meetings also focused on the need to deepen both the dialogue and bonds between Christian traditions, and between Christians and Muslims.
The archbishop met His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and discussed with him “how the church can flourish and grow” whatever local challenges it faces around the world.
His Holiness was accompanied at his residence by Metropolitan Bishoy, co-chairman of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission, Bishop Thomas of Quosia, Bishop Youannes and Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of The Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
The archbishop and the pope reflected together on the importance for the Oriental Orthodox family and the Anglican Communion of the resumption (in the U.K. later this year) of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox International Theological Commission.
They expressed their “delight” that official theological dialogue aimed at visible unity and witness was once again part of Anglican-Oriental Orthodox relations. Having previously completed an agreed statement on the person of Jesus Christ, the commission will turn its attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.
Welby was also “particularly pleased” to hear from the pope and his colleagues how, since the pope’s inauguration, the Coptic Church is responding to the challenges in contemporary Egyptian life. He offered his support for the new council of churches in Egypt, which draws together the strength and vision of all the churches.
Thanking the archbishop for traveling to Cairo, Pope Tawadros said: “We must build our dialogue and studies on love and crown them with prayers; we must also prepare our people to love, accept and work with each other in the spirit of unity found in John 17,” which contains Jesus’ prayer that his disciples may all be one.
Following what he called a “warm and joyful meeting”, Welby said: “We had a very wide-ranging discussion, coming back several times to the question of how the church can flourish and grow in prayer, in love for one another and in teaching of the Scriptures to our contemporaries. It’s important that we find a way of enabling our affection for one another to be transformed into effective shared witness.”
Welby added that he “had the opportunity to express the prayer and solidarity of the Anglican Communion with all the Christians of the Middle East as they seek the common good of their various nations.”
The archbishop also met with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb in Cairo, Egypt, in which they affirmed the importance of the ongoing dialogue between the Anglican Communion and Al-Azhar at such a critical time for Egypt and the wider region.
In the meeting, Welby expressed his appreciation for the way in which the Grand Imam and Al-Azhar have spoken up for rights of all the people of Egypt. He later said that the Grand Imam “is someone whose heart is committed to the work he does in interfaith dialogue – which he’s extremely good at – and a deep concern for all the people of the region, whatever their background.”
He heard about the innovative inter-religious workshops pioneered by Anis, with the Coptic Church, other local churches and Al-Azhar. The program brings together imams and priests from places which have experienced inter-religious tension and even violence. Anis spoke of how at their last meeting some of these priests and imams, having shared so deeply with each other, parted with tears.
Welby also spoke about the strong relations between Christians and Muslims in the U.K. He mentioned his recent meeting with Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain which demonstrated their solidarity in the aftermath of the “despicable murder” of Drummer Lee Rigby in London.
Welby was accompanied throughout the day by Anis, the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, area bishop for the Horn of Africa, and members of the Lambeth Palace ecumenical and inter-religious offices.
During his visit, Welby preached in Cairo’s Anglican All Saints Cathedral at the Alexandria School of Theology (AST) graduation service. Delivering the commencement address, he told the graduates: “This is a moment when we need encouragement, and you bring encouragement. The AST is a gift to the whole Anglican Communion. Your lives will be changed, and you will change the lives of those around you.”
He reminded himself and them that, amidst all the distractions of church life, the most important thing for the church is “to remember to come to Jesus Christ. We are called, as individuals and together, first and foremost, to know and love God in Jesus Christ.”
The archbishop also met with children from the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Egypt’s ministry for the deaf, who led the congregation in morning prayers and presented the archbishop with a handmade gift of a model pyramid. Welby said he was “delighted and touched” to meet the children and receive their prayers and gift.
Welby expressed much gratitude for his visit to Egypt. “I have been enormously inspired to spend time with Bishop Mouneer and to see something of his loving ministry here in Cairo and across the province,” he said. “ His Christ-centered leadership provides great encouragement amid the many challenges faced across the region, while his generous leadership of the Global South offers much hope for the Anglican Communion.”