Coptic Patriarch to offer Orthodox Divine Liturgy in St. John Lateran Basilica

By Courtney Mares

CNA—The head of the Coptic Church is scheduled to offer the Orthodox Divine Liturgy in the Catholic Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on May 14.

According to Father Martin Browne, an official at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, this liturgy will take place in the context of an official visit of Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to the Vatican and “has been arranged following appropriate consultation.”

In comments to the National Catholic Register on April 21, Browne drew a distinction between the Orthodox liturgy scheduled for May and the unapproved Anglican service that took place this week in the same basilica.

The Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox Church’s sacraments as valid, even if still in schism, while the Church does not recognize Anglican orders as valid, which means they cannot validly celebrate Mass.

“Pope Tawadros will celebrate at a specially constructed altar and not the main altar of the basilica,” Browne said, noting that the Anglican service also did not take place at the main altar.

“The liturgy will be for the Coptic faithful in Italy, which again gives it a different character to one involving solely pilgrim clergy,” he added.

Pope Tawadros II, who has led the Coptic Church since 2012, will visit Rome from May 9–14 and will appear beside Pope Francis at the general audience on Wednesday, May 10, where he will speak, according to a report by Aleteia.

Browne underlined that “the context of his visit is very particular — the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the heads of the Churches of Rome and Alexandria after a millennium and a half of estrangement.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church based in Egypt is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers were historically considered monophysites — those who believe Christ has only one nature — by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.

In 1973, Pope Paul VI made history when he invited Coptic Patriarch Shenouda to Rome and the two signed a joint declaration acknowledging their shared faith in Jesus Christ, “perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity.”

Pope Francis’ meeting with Tawadros II in 2013 marked the first visit of a Coptic Orthodox patriarch to Rome in 40 years. Francis also met with Tawadros II during a visit to Cairo in 2017.

“The visit of their patriarch is a very important event for Coptic Christians in Italy and very many of the faithful are expected to come to the liturgy,” Browne told the Register.

“Up to 3,000 are expected to come, which is far more than could be accommodated in Pope Tawadros’ own church in Rome. Thus, the opportunity to celebrate in the Lateran Basilica is precisely the kind of practical sharing of ‘Resources for Spiritual Life and Activity’ provided for in the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.”


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