Patriarch Sidrak enthroned as the new Coptic Catholic Patriarch
“We are proud of these Churches that produce young pastors, our very ‘own’ and close to us,” and, “This new generation of spiritual leaders is our true Arab Spring of the Church in the Middle East.” Reactions of this kind were readily heard from among the faithful who filled the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Catholic Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, for the inauguration of the new Coptic Catholic Patriarch, His Beatitude, Anba Isaac Ibrahim Sidrak.
The faithful certainly alluded to the youth of Patriarch Ibrahim, and also to the new and young Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Anba Tawadros. We can also think of the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako, the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the Orthodox Patriarch of Ethiopia, all new and all quite young.
All this was clearly felt in the enthronement ceremony. The Church was full of worshippers from the seven dioceses of the Patriarchate, the deep Upper Nile Delta, many monks and nuns, 140 priests, and 34 Coptic seminarians. There were two Catholic Patriarchs, the Melkite, Gregorios Lahham and the Syrian, Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan; representatives of four Patriarchates – Maronite, Chaldean, Armenian and the Latin represented by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel who is an associate and university friend of Patriarch Anba Ibrahim. Archbishop M. Fitzgerald, former Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt and Bishop Adel Zaki, the Latin Apostolic Vicar of Egypt also attended, with a dozen other Catholic and non-Catholic bishops of Egypt. The context of this enthronement was very special. On one hand, the political-social situation in Egypt is very delicate, precarious and definitely qualifies as ‘explosive’. On the other hand, the youth movement that pervades the communities of the new pastors, the excellent relations found with the Coptic Orthodox and with Muslims, not to mention the joyful expectation of the new Pope, create an atmosphere that bodes well for Patriarch Anba Ibrahim.
The most anticipated guest was the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros who, breaking with the long tradition of his predecessors, wanted to be present. His appearance at the door of the Church sparked an outburst of applause. In his official remarks, where for the first time in the historic relations between the two Churches, he used the expression “Coptic Catholic” which filled the faithful with delight, and his brotherly embrace of peace with the Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak seems to inaugurate a new era of dialogue and ecumenical cooperation.
Public officials also participated: the representative of the President of the Republic Morsi (there was no applause at the mention of his name) produced, the Chief of the Military Council, the former President of the Arab League, Amr Mussa (both applauded), a minister (who did not necessarily represent the Government), senior military leaders, police, officials of the Al-Azhar University, a good number of members of Parliament, the diplomatic service and of the Ministries. Judging from the outside, we can say that this ceremony has shown that the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, though a minority, has carved out a quite prominent place in public life. This occasion was, indirectly, like a barometer, a chance to ‘gauge’ the mood of the situation.
The ceremony was carried out in the Rite of the Holy Mass between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the rite of enthronement (one hour) and the different discourses (75 minutes). Patriarch Anba Ibrahim has a high quality theological education from the Gregorian University in Rome and gained pastoral experience without equal as a pastor, seminary rector and Bishop in Egypt. His words (here in Arabic) accurately reflected both aspects of his personality. It is placed in the heart of Egyptian culture, in the most authentic tradition of the Coptic Church, and in the conciliar current of the contemporary Universal Catholic Church, the Church of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. From these beginnings, he drew the main lines of his Patriarchate: to be in the service of reconciliation in society (this is also the Patriarchal motto: “To us is given the ministry of reconciliation”); to be in the service unity and the promotion of his community through teamwork at all levels; to be in the service of communion with all the Churches, especially the Coptic Orthodox; and in the service of dialogue and collaboration with all believers, especially Muslims.
During the meal for 350 guests, Bishop Marcuzzo, on behalf of Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, presented a very symbolic gift to Patriarch Anba Ibrahim: an icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The Holy Family of Nazareth links the Biblical Holy Land and Egypt. The icon was “written” Sr. Marie-Paul Farran, a Benedictine of Egyptian and Palestinian origin living in Jerusalem. The mystery itself of the Holy Family is deeply a mystery of ecclesial communion, brotherhood and love.
Our correspondent in Cairo