Church leaders, led by Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis, were gathered to pray for the people of Egypt, for unity, for peace and justice in St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, the chapel next to Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral that was bombed in December 2016, now restored.
Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros entered in a short procession to the church where 29 people died and 47 were wounded on 11 December 2016. The World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit took also part in the procession together with church leaders from Egypt and from other parts of the world.
Inside the small church, each of the eight Christian leaders seated before the congregation, with Pope Francis; Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople; Pope and Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa; Patriarch Ibrahim of the Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria; Anglican Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Patriarch Gregory III Laham, of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem; and Rev. Dr Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt, and director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.
Each of the church leaders read a verse each from the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II then said a few words in prayer, and everyone shared a sign of peace.
Pope Francis prayed, “Lord Jesus, I ask you to bless us, to bless my brother Pope Tawadros II, to bless all my brother bishops who are here, to bless all my Christian brothers and to take us on the path of charity and to work together toward the table of the Eucharist. Amen."
With music and placing flowers, praying and lighting a candle at the site where so many of Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed by a suicide bomber last year, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II paid homage to those who were killed for their faith. The ecumenical group prayed together in front of the photographs of the victims, and Pope Francis placed a bouquet of white and yellow flowers at the memorial wall in their honor.
Tveit commented, “Praying together in the bombed and now restored St Peter’s and St Paul’s church in Cairo, with the marks of the bomb still very visible on the columns, and the images of the martyrs on the wall, we were deeply moved. We felt the tragic loss, the fear, and the hope of the Christians in Egypt."
"To pray together is a significant sign of being together. In prayer we are gathered by God’s grace, sharing the deepest concerns with one another in the prayer of the Church. “
“The ecumenical prayer is a prayer with one another and for one another. It shows sympathy and togetherness as we struggle for justice and peace in the world, as we constantly pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.’”
Just before the ecumenical prayer, in a historic and significant move toward greater Christian unity, Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis signed a common declaration over the sacrament of baptism.
The majority of the 82.5 million Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Between 12-15 percent of the Egyptian population are Christians, most of them Coptic Orthodox, but there are Catholics, Protestants and other various Christian communities in the country as well.