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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 23, 2013 PAGE 15A preserwn By Sean Savage As newly elected leaders of their respective Christian faiths, Pope Francis I and Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II face a wide array of internal and external challenges. One presides over a global church of 1.2 billion, the other a smaller Mideast church of 12-18 million. But a primary challenge for both is the fate of Middle East Christianity, which is on the verge of ex- tinction in the region where the religion was born. Early in their papacies, both Pope Francis and Pope Tawad- ros have shown a willingness to break from corwention and challenge the status quo. But as leaders of ancient churches with two very distinct sets of is~'ues, they also must put aside past doctrinal and theo- logical issues to work together to confront the challenges of preserving their faith and bringing peace and stability to the Middle East. "The [Catholic] church has had an abiding concern of all people and in particular of people who are persecuted for their faith," Stephen Col- ecchi--director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bish- ops (USCCB), an assembly of all active and retired U.S. Catholic leaders--told JNS. org. During a historic meeting between the two popes in May, Pope Francis assured Pope Tawadros of his support in the face of persecution of Egypt Christians, citing the New Testament verse, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Corinthians t2:26). "This is a law of the Chris- tian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering: Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily suffer- ings can become an effective instrument of unity," Pope Francis said. Despite Christianity be- ing the largest religion in the world" with 2.2 ~billion followers, according to Pew Research Center, it is also one of the most persecuted faiths. According to Open Doors, a non-denominational Chris- tian human rights group, more than 100 million Chris- tians are persecuted world- wide, with eight of the top 10 countries for persecution of Christians being Muslim- majority states. The Roman Catholic Church considers itselftheworld s one true church" and the only church to which Jesus gave explicit authority through his apostle Peter, who later became the first pope, according to the Catholic interpretation of the Christian Gospels. The modern Catholic Church is actually composed of the Latin Church, where the vast majority of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics belong, and the Eastern Catholic Church, composed of smaller churches scattered throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East and even India. The Eastern Catholic Churches maintain many of their own traditions and hierarchy separate from the larger church, but are in full communion with the Catholic Church, most importantly. recognizing the Pope as their leader. Two of the largest East- ern Catholic Churches are the Maronite Church in Lebanon, with about 3.5 million adher- ents, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, one of the largest groups of Christians in the Levant with 1.6 mil- lion adherents, including in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Like the Catholic Church, the Coptic Church of Egypt goes back to the foundations of Christianity. According to tradition, their church was established by. one "of Jesus's apostles, Mark, in 42 CE. Coptic Christians consti- tuted a majority of Egypt's population until the Middle Ages, when Islam, introduced by the Arab invasions in the 7th century, eclipsed their religion. Today, Coptic Chris- tianity comprises nearly 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people, making it the largest single Christian community remaining in the Middle East. Like all religions, the divi- sions between the different churches in Christianity have had a tense history with vari- ous doctrinal and theological schisms. For much of their history, the Catholic and Cop- tic Churches have had little formal relations. However, today under the-dynamic leadership of their respec- tive popes, the two ancient churches are attempting to forge a common message in the face of mutual threats, such as from radical Islam. During the Egyptian revo- lution in early 2011, then Cop- tic Pope Shenauda III was slow to criticize former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Elected to the Coptic Papacy in 1971, Shenoudawas a prag- matic and conservative leader who relied on Egypt's succes- sive secular governments for protection against Islamic fundamentalists. Despite the arrangement, Coptic Christians faced a number of attacks over the years by Islamic fundamental- ists and often accused Egypt's security forces of not doing enough to protect them. This put Shenouda in a difficult position--between main- taining relations with the secular state and protecting his followers. As a result, he was often reluctant to speak out against the government. "[Pope Tawadros's] pre- decessor, Pope Shenouda III, refrained from directly confronting [President Hosni] Mubarak and his regime. But it looks like the current Pope Tawadros is fed up, especially with the unprecedented at- tack on the cathedral," Halim Meawad, co-founder of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based inter- national Coptic human rights organization, told in April following the attack on St. Mark Cathedral, the holi- est site in Coptic Christianity. After the attack, Pope Tawadros harshly condemned recently ousted Islamist Presi- dent Mohamed Morsi for not doing enough to prevent the violence. It was one of the first times in recent memory a Coptic leader spoke out against the government. Prior to that incident, Pope Tawadros was also an out- spoken critic of Morsi's new Egyptian constitution, which he accused of discriminating against Christians. Unlike during the uprising against Mubarak, the Coptic Church under the leadership of Pope Tawadros played an active role in Morsi's ouster. "[Pope Tawadros] got him- self very involved and spoke up loudly against the Muslim Brotherhood; he actively en- couraged his followers to par- ticipate in the demonstrations on June 30," Meawad said. Following Morsi's ouster, Pope Tawadros, along with Grand Imam of al-Azhar Uni- versity Dr. Ahmed ei-Tayyib and secular opposition leader Dr. Mohamed EIBaradei, pub- licly supported a roadmap for a new government presented by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Pope Tawadros's public profile during the uprising has made him a target for Islamists. "The Islamists issued sev- eral death threats against Pope Tawadros. As a result and at the security forces' request, he 15as canceled his weekly sermon and meeting with his congregation for the 5th consecutive week. His movements and whereabouts are all secret," Meawad said. While Pope Tawadros has made headlines for his role in revolutionary Egypt, Pope Francis has also become something of an international celebrity. Since becoming Pope in March, Pope Francis has brought what many con- sider to be a new dynamism to the Catholic Church. Shun- ning the traditional regal trappings of the papacy, Pope Francis's populist message, concern for the poor, and willingness to touch upon controversial issues facing the church (such as atheism, homosexuality and the role of women) has made him a popular leader. Pope Francis, who recently said he would consider a visit to Israel next year, has also continued the church's concern for the plight of Mideast Christians. "Since being elevated to the papacy, Pope Francis has fre- quently spoken about issues of violence against Christians in the Middle East," USCCB's Colecchi told Additionally, Pope Francis has vocally supported Chris- tians in Syria who are trapped between opposing sides in that country's bloody civil war. "My thoughts at this mo- ment also go to the Christian communities who live in Syria and throughout the Middle East," Pope .Francis said in remarks to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vati- can's main Catholic charity. "The Church supports the members of these communi- ties who today find themselves in special difficulty. These [communities] have the great task of continuing to offer a Christian presence in the place where they were born. And it is our task to ensure that this witness remain there.Theparticipationofthe The USCCB has worked with especially in aiding the refu- entire Christian community theinternationalcommunity gees displaced by the Syrian to this important work of as- to get a ceasefire in Syria. A conflict. Colecchi said these sistance and aid is imperative prolonged conflict does not organizations provide aid to at this time." serve to help all elements of anyone regard Jess of their Colecchi told that, the Syrian people,'! he said. faith, not just to Christians. both the Vatican and the A number of Catholic aid"Ultimatelytheonlywayto USCCB have worked hard to organizations, including the preserve Christian presence protect Syrian Christians. Caritas Internationalis relief is to build inclusive societies, "The Holy See has repeat- organization and Catholic withpeoplewhoarerespectful edly called for both sides [in Relief Services, are active ofallbackgroundsandfaiths," the civilwar] not tobe armed, throughout the Middle East, Colecchi said. Shir Shalom Celebrating 11 years of serving Central Florida A NEW YEAR---A SPIRITUAL RENEWAL DISCOVER THE REFORM JEWISH HOME YOU'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR! HIGH HOLIDAY TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW] High Holiday Services will be held at: FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF 0 VIEZ)O 263 KING STREET, OVIEDO Check our website for information, directions and service schedule. Call and leave a message at 407-366-3556 if additional information is needed. EO DA " ~ ~:" ~ ..... 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