Good News Journal interviews HH Pope Tawadros II
The Canadian Journal, Good News had interview with HH pope Tawadros II in Cairo and the questions were as follow:
Q1: In Africa the Coptic church blended with the local culture; however in North America and Europe the second-generation feels that the church is still influenced by Egyptian culture while they themselves live in a different society and a different culture. What does your Holiness think? Could there be a middle ground? Or can we learn from the experience of the Coptic church in Africa?
A1: The situation in Africa is very different since the church does not have that many Copts, but the majority are locals, so the church had to adapt. For example the Virgin Mary icon in these churches is not the one we are accustomed to, but rather, the virgin has to have dark skin. I believe that adapting the church to the local culture of Western societies will be the responsibility of the next generation. It will happen gradually. For example in Egypt, we used to pray in the Coptic and Arabic languages, but coming to Canada, we started praying in three languages: Arabic English and Coptic. That said, I believe it’s very important to preserve our Coptic and Egyptian traditions when blending with the Canadian culture including the Coptic music which is part of our identity. Even if we choose to sing in the English or French languages, we need to sustain the Coptic music. Preserving the clergy attire is also very important as well – some churches chose to modify it after coming to Canada.
Q2: In the same context of the previous question, the second-generation Coptic Canadians feel that the mass service is considerably long – sometimes extending to three hours – which is likewise observed by their Canadian friends who sometimes attend our Coptic mass. The question is: will the Coptic Church re-adjust to adapt to the fast paced Western societies, or is the church going to stick to the tradition?
A1: In responding to this question, I would like to make three points:
Firstly, the Coptic Church was founded in an agricultural society. Such a society teaches us that things take time to grow and be nurtured, exactly like the seed planted in the soil, it needs watering and time to grow.
Secondly, I want to tell our young people that the relationship between man and God needs time. To feel God’s presence and Grace is not an automatic feeling, it’s one that comes with practice. We need time to experience God.
Thirdly let’s talk numbers: if you attend a mass service, that is three hours long and a weekly meeting that’s another three hours long, the total would be six hours a week. This in reality is 4% of your time which you are dedicating for God. Is this enough? of course not.
I believe that changing the tunes and songs in different occasions makes prayers less repetitive and less boring. Frankly, I believe that Westerners made a mistake when they cut prayers short. The only exception would be mass services dedicated to children. Those should not be long, and the church needs to focus on teaching the children to understand the meaning of the words not only to memorize the tunes.
Q3: Coptic youth born in the West suffer from the time difference between Christmas and Easter falling on different dates from the rest of the country. While everybody, organizations and businesses celebrate while our youth have to wait few days or even weeks. Is it possible to see a change of this situation in the future?
A3: This problem has nothing to do with religion. It is an astronomical issue. The West follows a calendar and the East follows a different one. It is similar to temperature reading either in Fahrenheit or Celsius. I fully understand that this is a problem for the Copts in the West and am pleased to tell you that we as a Coptic church took the initiative to call for unifying the dates for Easter and Christmas between the two Calendars or at least start with one of the two. So far, Easter unification seems to be easier, but that step is done, we can then move into unifying Christmas as well.
Q4: Here in the West, we are used to setting long or short term goals if we want to solve problems. Your Holiness, how do you see an end to the long standing problem of attacks on churches in Egypt which spanned over four decades regardless of who was in power?
A4: While our Egyptian society has not yet settled, I feel a different attitude towards the church from current government and leaders. Everybody is determined to rebuilding Egypt together.
Q5: Never before did the church take a visible political stand at a time where the ruler of Egypt was being challenged as was the situation on June 30th 2013. What made you participate in the political scene on July 3rd and was this participation intended to usher a new role for the church in politics?
A5: Before June 30th, Egypt was in a state of extreme unrest. We all felt it. As an Egyptian citizen, I feel what the people feel; I watch the news; I read the papers and I meet with people. I felt the overwhelming rejection of the status quo but could not go out and protest like ordinary citizens. It started by drafting the notice issued to the president which gave him a one week period to take action, then 48 hours. After that, it was obvious that a decision needed to be made. That is why we got together as a group (Al Azhar Grand Imam, the Church, the Military & other youth groups and public personalities) to decide on a course of action. We met for five hours to discuss the announcement. It was a democratic process where we produced a number of drafts until we all agreed on the final version. Finally, the Imam of Al Azhar verified the final version linguistically, then we were all asked to speak to the people of Egypt. I consider what I did on July 3rd is the way I could participate. Ordinary citizens can join protests. You can wave flags, but I can’t. The church’s contribution on July 3rd was not a political stance; it was a patriotic one for the sake of our country. It was for Egypt.
Q6: some people see that the Senexarium (history of the saints) contains sentences that are foreign to the Coptic Church, or were adopted from non-Christian cultures. Do you agree that the book needs to be revisited and such sentences removed?
A6: This exercise has already been done, and the last version released by the Syrian monastery is a modified one.
Q7: when will we start seeing latter day Saints in the Senexarium (people like Mary George, Kosheh martyrs, or the Libya martyrs for example)? Could this put pressure of some sort on the church?
A7: There is absolutely no pressure from the state regarding this matter; however when designating someone as a “saint”, he or she should have no relatives who are alive; otherwise we would say “this person is related to St. so-and-so”. This is exactly what happened with Pope Kyrollos VI who was considered saint only after 42 years of his passing, when all his relatives had passed away. Similarly, Habib Guirgis who was designated a saint in spite of being in layman.
Q8: your relationship with Al Azhar and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar is a strong one. At the same time, Copts complain that Al Azhar is the institution behind Egypt Islamization efforts. Also some Al Azhar scholars attack Christianity. How do you reconcile that?
Q8: First: It is very important that there is a loving relation between the church and everyone else.
Second: There is a joint working group between Al Azhar and the Church called “the Family Home”. This group is responsible for reviewing education curricula and has already started vetting and deleting offending parts of the curricula.
Third: poverty, ignorance and illiteracy are still rampant in Egypt. These are responsible for day-to-day clashes and tragic incidents. All these problems will disappear once we embark on reforming education and enforcing the law.
It is unfortunate that we are spending a great deal of our time and effort dealing with the current violent attacks that are achieving nothing but slow down our progress.
Q9: God chose you to become the Pope for the Copts at the same time as an Egyptian president who happened to be a member of a group that espouses extreme religious doctrine. Did you feel the enormity of this situation?
A9: at the beginning, I had reservations about the political scene; however this quickly passed. I am an optimist by nature and we as Christians believe that our life is in the hands of god.
Q10: Will the church support one presidential candidate over another?
A10: No, the church will not support one candidate. Neither will the church dictate that Copts support a certain candidate. Everyone should study every candidate’s platform and decide for him or herself; as the saying goes: “Use your brain to save yourself”. As always, the church will work with whoever wins but will continue to express opinions in matters which the church deems fit.
Q11: Did your Holiness say there were malicious forces behind the January 25 revolution?
A11: I did not say that exactly. I said the January 25 revolution was hijacked. Before I became Pope, I wrote a poem saying that people started a revolution, but then others jumped on the bandwagon and hijacked it.
Q12: Your Holiness became a monk on July 31st, 1988; a Bishop on June 15 1997; and a Pope on November 4, 2013. Which, in your opinion, was the toughest day?
A12: I was very happy being a monk, so the toughest day for me is when I became a Bishop. I also felt enormity and awe of sitting on the Throne as a Pope. When I found the result of the divine lottery selection, I was shocked as well.
Q13: Your Holiness expressed a wish to establish a teaching institution for church deacons for Copts outside Egypt. Is this still a priority?
A13: Absolutely. We envision establishing a teaching program for every group of churches. The program should equally blend both Coptic and Canadian spiritual teachings. I consider teaching and preparing church servants, a most important first step in any church
Q14: there are varying opinions from inside the church about what activities would affect the unity of the church. What is the official position of the church in this regard, particularly concerning some of the prayer meetings happening outside the church?
A14: All Christians around the world are united in 3 things: one Christ, one Bible, and one goal which is eternity. Over the course of history there were differences of course but we all continued to love, serve and maintain good relationships with one another. Prayer meetings are okay so long as they don’t involve the church sacraments because when it comes to practicing the sacraments, the church must remain the place to do so.
Q15: At this time, there is a requirement for the Coptic Pope ‘s parents to be both Egyptians. In light of the number of Copts living outside Egypt, is this requirement necessary? Are there political reasons behind it?
A15: There are no political reasons whatsoever, but simply to reflect the fact that the majority of Copts are still in Egypt. We have about 16 to 17 million Copts in Egypt and about 2 Millions out of Egypt
Q16: What does Pope Tawadros request from Coptic Canadians?
A16: First: we hope that each and every one of them develops a strong and vital relationship with the church. This will foster a strong connection with God.
Second: We wish that Coptic Canadians are always proud of their Egyptian heritage. Egypt is a great country with an unmatched civilization. There is a great saying that Egyptian skin covers layers of civilization from The Pharos, to Coptic, Islamic and African.
Third: Live your life as great example of proud Christians and Egyptians
Q17: your sons and daughters hope to receive your blessing in a visit to Canada- will this happen soon?
A17: I will visit Canada next September. I am mostly looking forward to shake hands and greet all my children. This is much more important to me than any celebrations and organized meetings.
Interview done By: Abram Makar
Translated By: Nancy Motran & Ghada Melek