Picture: "Let the little children come to me", Fresco in the Anafora Cathedral
A quick reminder to set the scene for this visit. In March 2019, Olivier Fleury (founder of JC2033) and I were received by His Holiness Pope Tawadros at the papal residence in Cairo. We presented him with our vision of a decade of Resurrection to prepare for the jubilee of 2033, 2000 years since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We were accompanied by the leaders of the Focolare Movement in Egypt.
“How can the Churches in Egypt be together on this occasion", asked O. Fleury. ”Indeed, 2000 years is something to celebrate. And we're celebrating together!”
To this question, Pope Tawadros replied that the Egyptian Council of Churches would have to think about it.
In September 2021, JC2033 organized an ecumenical gathering in the Anafora monastery through an ecumenical committee linked to the Egyptian Council of Churches.
Read: Global Gathering 2021 Anafora
Concerning the problem of the different dates of Easter between the Orthodox and other Churches, Pope Tawadros told us that he had written a letter to Pope Francis proposing to unify it. Research has also been carried out by the Churches. But for the moment, there are no results.
On the other hand, he invited us to think about how to celebrate Easter together in Egypt in the years before 2033 when the date will be common (in 2025, 2028 and 2031). He specified that if a gathering were to take place on these occasions, all churches should be invited "without any exclusion".
"The pyramids weren't built in a day."
From left to right: Martin Hoegger, Michaël Arteen and Refaat Fikri
With this recommendation from Pope Tawadros in mind, we began our visits to the Atabah district with Pastor Refaat Fikri, head of inter-church relations for the "Nile Synod" of the Presbyterian Church. This group includes 500 churches and 450 pastors.
I explained that JC2033 is also taking part in the "Easter Together 2025" initiative, which invites the Churches to journey together during the year in which the date of Easter is common. This date also marks the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea.
Read: "Easter Together 2025", an important step to 2033
"I'm 100% convinced by this initiative, but practical steps are needed now", Pastor Refaat Fikri said. He saw the importance of getting young people involved and of having an action in every church.
Another step is to make JC2033 known to other countries in the region through the Middle East Council of Churches. Pastor Fikri is one of the secretaries. A media man, R. Fikry is one of the "voices of the Church" on television. Two years ago, he devoted a program to the Anafora gathering organized by JC2033, in 2021. "People are paying attention. There's potential for growth, which is why we need to involve the media", he added.
Samy Samir, Alpha Courses Middle East coordinator, is the second person with whom we speak. He told us that he has just changed ministry and is preparing to move to another country in the Middle East. But he happily told us of his desire to continue to cooperate in sharing Christ's Resurrection... wherever he may be.
With the Focolare women's community in Cairo
In the evening, we were invited to the Focolare women's community where a hearty oriental buffet awaited us. We were delighted to see our friends who were so generously involved in preparing the Anafora meeting.
Rima Saikali, committee member of the Egyptian Council of Churches, told us how important it is to motivate young people. She told us that she was very touched by the energy of the young people who took part in a meeting organized by this Council. As for Silvia Porta, she gave us a "word of wisdom". "Be patient in Egypt, the pyramids weren't built in a day!"
Gathering around the Risen One
The next day, we headed south to Cairo to meet Nasr Katkout, Bishop of the Assemblies of God in Egypt, a large Pentecostal church. He, too, assured us from the outset that he fully supports this march towards 2033, and that this is the right time to relaunch the movement in Egypt.
With Nasr Katkout (left)
He told us that the Bible Society of Egypt just celebrated its 150th anniversary, with all the churches present. "If we can gather around the Bible, we must also gather around the Resurrection of Christ," he said. He is ready to delegate a member of his Church to form a working group, with a view to a celebration in Easter time in 2025, when the date is common to all Christians.
After this visit, we headed to "Old Cairo" to the monastery of St. George. There Father Damaskinos of the Greek Orthodox Church was waiting for us. He greeted us with a warm embrace. He told us how happy he was to have been able to take part in the Anafora meeting, when he was secretary of the Council of Churches. He immediately supported the idea of marking Easter 2025. Indeed, people outside the churches don't understand this division around the date of Easter.
Egypt is the hero
In the evening, we met Bishop Claudio Lurati of the Latin Catholic Church. A man of unity, he brought the Churches together to pray for Egypt on December 18, just after the presidential elections. The war raging in Gaza is yet another reason to come together in prayer.
With Bishop Claudio Lurati, Marie-Thérèse and Nadia Doss
Taking part in the meeting were our friends Nadia and Marie-Thérèse Doss, members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the Bishop's right-hand women for ecumenism. Mgr Lurati also supports our approach, but invited us to contact other bishops of the Catholic Church in Egypt, in particular Thomas Adly, responsible for ecumenism.
The next day, we traveled to Kasr El-Dobara to meet Pastor Sameh Maurice, who welcomed us along with Odette Wadie Shafik, the General Manager of this large Protestant Church. The latter is part of the "Mary and Elisabeth" movement, which aims to strengthen the participation of women in the churches of the Middle East. She was very interested to learn that Grace, Michael Arteen's wife, has just defended a doctoral thesis on "Church Mothers" in the Middle East.
The commemoration of the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, with the common date of Easter in 2025, echoes in him, for in the year 325, Egypt was the "hero" with “Athanasius of Alexandria", defender of the Orthodox faith.
With Odette Wadie Shafik and Sameh Maurice
A member of the Mustard Seed movement, he recounted with emotion the funeral of one of its founders, Father Saaman, attended by over 30,000 people. "Unity and evangelization are my vocation and my passion", he confided. He is delighted that these two values are also those of JC2033, and wants to put himself at the service of this pilgrimage towards 2033. "We'll be there to help you", he assured us.
Preparing the way of the Lord
We then paid a visit to Pastor Andrea Zaki, President of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt, who welcomed us with his right-hand man, Michael El Daba. This federation of 18 Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches is strongly committed to evangelism and social action. As he is due to preside over the ordination of several elders, he left us rather quickly, assuring us of his blessing and full support. “I'll delegate people", he said, "and whatever Pope Tawadros signs, I'll sign too.”
With Michaël El Dabah
After he left, the two Michaels, who discovered they have a lot in common, took time to chat in Arabic, while I cleaned up a few notes. M. El Daba is also the representative of the "Lausanne Movement" for the Middle East, which will hold its world assembly in 2024.
Then we headed off to the Zamalek district, between two arms of the Nile, to meet Anglican Bishop Sami Fawzi. He received us with great cordiality in his very "British" style office, located in the grounds of the "All Saints" Cathedral. Michael already knew him, having just accredited the Anglican training seminary in his capacity as an expert for MENATE, the Middle East and North Africa Association for Theological Education.
Right from the start, the bishop told us that it's "a privilege to be part of this wonderful initiative," which obviously gives us great pleasure! He, too, will be looking for representatives for a working group.
With Bishop Sami Fawzi
He does, however, advise us to visit the general secretaries of the five communions of churches that make up the Council of Churches of Egypt (Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical and Catholic).
In the afternoon, a cab took us to the Anafora monastery, where we are due to meet the Coptic Orthodox bishop Anba Thomas, its founder. But we learned that something unexpected had forced him to return to the diocese for which he is responsible. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit the new cathedral, with its thousand biblical frescoes, and to take part in the evening prayer in a chapel lit by candles, with many young people praying.
The next day, we were able to have a phone call with Anba Thomas and summarize our various visits, reminding him of Pope Tawadros' recommendation for Easter 2025. With joy, he recalled the gathering we held in his monastery in October 2021. And, with conviction, he told us of his desire to continue on the path towards 2033, putting himself at our service and opening his monastery for an ecumenical meeting in 2025.
Prayer in the Anafora chapel
After the meeting with Sami Fawzi, we attended mass in the Anglican cathedral, where the seminary students took part. "Prepare the way of the Lord." This call from John the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospels was the theme of the student chaplain's message. How can we prepare the way? By walking in humility, repentance and justice!
It seemed to us that these few visits during these intense days have helped prepare a path of communion and witness in Egypt. May the Holy Spirit enlighten and guide us!