Wednesday was a rare day at the Vatican when two popes – Pope Francis and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church – shared the limelight in St Peter’s Square.
Tavadros, dressed in black, was the guest of honor at Francis’ general audience in rainy St Peter’s Square. The two sat next to each other and gave a joint blessing at the end.
Tawadros, 70, is in the Vatican to mark the 50th anniversary of the first meeting between a Roman pope and a Coptic pope, which took place in 1973 between their respective predecessors, Shenouda III and Paul VI.
In his greeting to Tawadros, Francis recalled 20 Egyptian Copts abducted and beheaded on a beach in Libya by the Islamic State in 2015.
The 86-year-old Francis said, “The martyrs of the Coptic Church are ours too.”
Twenty Copts and a Ghanaian Christian were posed in orange jumpsuits on a Libyan beach before they were executed in the Libyan city of Sirte, which was controlled by the Islamic State between 2015-2017. The Islamist group posted a video of the killings, which shows people praying to Jesus after they die.
The victims, whose bodies were returned to Egypt in 2018, were among many poor Egyptians who risked their lives to find work in Libya’s chaotic chaos following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and civil war.
Copts comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population and there are smaller Coptic Christian communities throughout the Middle East and Africa. They have long been attacked by Islamic extremists who see them as heretics.
Coptic Orthodox Christians trace their origins to Saint Mark the Apostle.
Tavadros is due to hold a private meeting with Francis on Thursday and visit the Vatican’s department promoting Christian unity.