Members of WCC ECHOS Commission visit Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
Members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Youth (ECHOS) visited the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and Bishop Yohannes, President of the Bishopric of Social and Ecumenical Services.
The 12 May visit, a sign of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East region, was an opportunity for the new ECHOS commissioners to learn about the traditions and present-day situation of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Bishop Yohannes stressed the importance in the Coptic Orthodox Church of the historical roots of Christianity in the region to the ECHOS members, most notably as an area where the Holy Family spent several years of their lives. He also described some of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s most central traditions in being a church of apostolic witness, martyrdom and monasticism, and of heroism in faith.
Reflecting on the role of youth in the church, Bishop Yohannes then shared with the ECHOS commissioners a story about a dialogue between a priest and a youth person: “A church without youth is a church without a future,” said the priest. “But youth without church, are youth without a future,” replied the youth.
Relating to the importance of martyrs in the Coptic tradition, ECHOS commissioner Aleshia Johnson, from the Anglican Church of Canada Indigenous Ministries, asked how the Coptic Orthodox Church received and responded to the news of the recent execution of Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Libya.
Bishop Yohannes said: “They were so strong. They were shocked, but seemed to feel no fear. Instead they looked to heaven, facing martyrdom with great courage.” He then stressed that the actions of the Islamic State are not indicative of a conflict between Christians and Muslims in the region as such, but rather a problem of fanaticism.
“The relationship between Christians and moderate Muslims in the area has a long history, and it is good and improving,” he said. “On the day of the funeral service, I met Muslims who said to me: ‘Condolences to us, not to you, for these actions.’ This understanding strengthens the relationship between moderate Muslims and Christians,” he added.
The visit to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate was part of a four-day meeting in Cairo, during which the commission worked on strategies for their future work, as well as discussing the role of young people in the church and in society. During their days in Cairo, the ECHOS commissioners also paid visits to Muslim representatives and institutions in the area, such as Al Azhar Mosque and University on 12 May for a meeting with the Grand Sheikh and the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs.