On the occassion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II
The Mandolay Hotel, Guildford, 16 May 2017
“Your holiness, we are delighted that you have come to join us here in Guildford, following your visits to Her Majesty the Queen and to his grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and we are also delighted to welcome your fellow bishops and clergy. It has been a great privilege for us in the Church of England diocese of Guildford to share Christian fellowship with Father Dawoud St Anthony and Dr Albert Atalla from St Augustine’s Coptic Church in Gomshall down the road; and they and the whole Christian community here in Surrey are deeply honoured by your visit.
“Egypt in the Bible is sometimes seen as a place of slavery, because of the power of the Exodus story. But it is also a place of sanctuary: a nation where Abraham and Jacob and Joseph and his brothers found food in times of famine; a nation whose scholarship in Alexandria produced the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible; a nation where the holy family found protection from the brutality of King Herod; a nation of which the prophet Isaiah writes: ‘The Lord Almighty will bless them saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people’. And your church, your holiness, is amongst the most ancient in the world, having been founded by St Mark the Evangelist in the very first century of the Christian era.
“We honour that history; and especially we honour the extraordinary courage of our Coptic brothers and sisters today, as you live out your faith at a time of such pressure and persecution. Our Lord Himself warned that an hour was coming when those who killed his followers would think that by doing so they were offering worship to God; and that hour has now come. In particular we were deeply saddened on Palm Sunday this year to hear that you yourself were the victim of a terrorist attack, in which many of our Christian brothers and sisters lost their lives.
“We are moved by their witness; we pray for their families; we grieve, but as those who have resurrection hope at the very heart of our faith. And in the face of such terrible suffering – and in the face too of the secularism that is such a feature of our life here in the UK, where so many live without God and without that resurrection hope burning in their hearts – our prayer for you, for ourselves, for the whole Christian community, is the prayer that our Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died: that we might be One, just as the Son and the Father are One.
“As a sign of that oneness I would like to present your holiness with this gift of a medal from the Diocese of Guildford. On one side is a picture of our Cathedral, which is built on Stag Hill, hence the stag beneath it. On the other is a picture of the angel who stands atop our Cathedral tower as a reminder of our need for God to watch over our community. This tiny gift – and the gracious hospitality of this evening – reminds us of our unity in Christ. We praise God for it, we treasure it, and we pray for our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt and throughout the world, just as we covet your prayers for us: that we might be rooted and grounded in the love of our crucified and risen Lord. ‘Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!’”