Eastern Catholics Key for Christian Unity, Says Pope

Receives Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Eastern Catholic Churches have the task to promote Christian unity, especially with the Orthodox, said Benedict XVI when receiving in audience the patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts.



Patriarch Antonios Naguib, 71, visited the Holy See for the first time today since his election in March.

Addressing the patriarch in French, the Bishop of Rome guaranteed his "support for the 'particular task' that the ecumenical Second Vatican Council entrusted to the Eastern Catholic Churches: 'to make the unity of all Christians progress, especially among Eastern Christians.'"

The Holy Father underlined the "important role" played by the Coptic Church "in the interreligious dialogue to foster fraternity and esteem between Christians and Muslims, and among all men."

Egypt's Catholic Copts number about 250,000, a small minority in a country of 74 million inhabitants, 94% of whom are Muslims and most of the rest, Orthodox Copts.

The Orthodox Coptic Church remained apart from Rome following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It is led today by Pope Shenouda III. 

In 1741, a Coptic bishop in Jerusalem converted to Catholicism and was named by Pope Benedict XIV apostolic vicar of the small Coptic community. In 1895, Pope Leo XIII re-established the Catholic-Coptic Patriarchate.

The Coptic Church was founded by the martyr Mark between A.D. 40 and 60 in Alexandria.