Exclusive: Pope Tawadros II warns against ‘emptying’ Middle East of Christians, sees hope in Saudi reforms

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Pope Tawadros II talks regional politics, status of Copts and his views on reforms in Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo: Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas talking with Pope Tawadros II in Cairo. (AN Photo: Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 05 December 2018
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Exclusive: Pope Tawadros II warns against ‘emptying’ Middle East of Christians, sees hope in Saudi reforms

  • Coptic pope said recent attacks on Copts are an attack on Egyptian unity
  • Tawadros sees hope in the reforms of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia

CAIRO: Coptic Pope Tawadros II warned of the danger of emptying the Middle East of Christians, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“This emptying act is against nature,” the pope said, adding that recent attacks on Copts and their places of worship are an attack on Egyptian unity.

“Our regions have been established with the existence of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. What happened in some countries like Syria and Iraq is painful.”

Tawadros spoke about the damage inflicted on the Copts in Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule from 2012 to 2013. “The migration of Christians in Egypt resulted from the circumstances that took place,” he said. “Christians feared for their lives and fled the country. When the country regained its stability, a lot of them returned to Egypt. Christian emigration rates have dropped significantly.”

Tawadros, who is looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia soon at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he personally follows the “positive developments” taking place there under his reforms. He said the crown prince’s meetings with religious, political and cultural figures around the world encompass “a lot of hope” are “in the interest of Saudi Arabia and contribute to human development.”

Tawadros visited the Vatican in 2013, the first visit of a Coptic pope in 40 years, and his last trip was in July this year. “It is a good relationship based on friendship and love with Pope Francis,” he said.

“There is a dialogue committee between us and the Vatican that meets annually.”

In the interview, conducted in Cairo and published to mark the crown prince’s tour that included other Arab states and Argentina for the G20 Summit, the pope also shared his views of the region.

Tawadros views Palestine as an “occupied country” and said he hopes a “spirit of understanding prevails” between Israelis and Palestinians so that Jerusalem can be a capital for both states “and peace reigns in the region.”

The interview appears in full tomorrow in the print version of Arab News.


Former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir laid to rest

Updated 16 May 2019
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Former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir laid to rest

  • Lebanese flags were lowered at the Presidential Palace and government institutions in mourning and respect for the late Patriarch
  • he Muslim-majority northern city of Tripoli raised pictures of Sfeir in its streets

BEIRUT: Lebanon bid farewell to the former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on Thursday, who died at the age of 99.

“He loved Lebanon and did all he could for his war-torn country. He wanted peace and reconciliation to prevail, not just for Christians but Muslims as well. He prayed for Lebanon to remain a country of dialogue and convergence, as Pope Francis said,” noted Papal envoy Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Lebanese flags were lowered at the Presidential Palace and government institutions in mourning and respect for the late Patriarch. The ancient fortress of Baalbek closed its doors in compliance with a memorandum issued by the Minister of Culture Mohammad Daoud.

Thousands of people from all over Lebanon came to Bkerki, where Sfeir’s body lay since Wednesday, to see him for the last time.

The Muslim-majority northern city of Tripoli raised pictures of Sfeir in its streets. A large Druze delegation also came to Bkerki at the request of the president of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, to pay tribute to Sfeir and his role in patronizing the Jabal reconciliation after a bloody war between the Druze and Christians in the 1980s.

While Hezbollah was absent from the funeral, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, attended with a large delegation from the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces also participated in the funeral of the man they consider “the first resistant against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.”

Sfeir was elected as the 76th Patriarch of the Maronite Church in 1986 and resigned in 2011 to be succeeded by Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi. Born in 1920, he witnessed the birth of Lebanon and countless historical events. He provided the Christian cover to the Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war despite the objections of President Michel Aoun, the leader of an opposition movement at the time. 

Sfeir was known for resisting all the temptations and pressures exerted to force him to visit Syria.

The Future Movement called for a broad participation in paying tribute to the person who “devoted his life to protect the people’s rights, freedoms and dignity.” 

Equally, the Free Patriotic Movement described Sfeir as “a great spiritual leader that marked an important period of the country’s history.”

As well as the president, prime minister, countless Lebanese politicians, and representatives from Jordan, Qatar, the Vatican and Cyprus, the French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also attended on behalf of President Emmanuel Macron.

The French Embassy, in a statement, described the late patriarch as “one of the great peace and reconciliation makers in Lebanon. He was a friend of France and a great patriot, who passionately defended Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty.”

The US State Department said: “Sfeir was a courageous leader in the face of tyranny and oppression. He was a champion of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. The US will continue to stand by Lebanon to support such role models that Cardinal Sfeir embodied.”

The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari also participated in the funeral. He conveyed the condolences of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Al-Rahi, saying: “Sfeir was one of the pillars of peace and coexistence in Lebanon and the World.”

The funeral was accompanied by strict security measures. 

The Lebanese Army had banned “the flying of remote-controlled planes above the area where the funeral is taking place until the end of the burial.”