Copts call for church reform, greater role for secularists

Magdy Samaan
4 Min Read

Spokesman dismisses idea that non-Copts should have say in church affairs

CAIRO: Coptic researchers and intellectuals attending the Secular Vision on Church Problems Conference Tuesday demanded reform and a larger role for secularists in the running of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The conference came on the sidelines of the Coptic Church’s celebration of Pope Shenouda III s 35 years as head of the church in Egypt, occupying what is known as the Saint Mark chair.

The conference also coincided with the 83-year-old’s return on Nov.11 from a trip to the US where he underwent successful back surgery. It also coincided with rumors about the pope s health condition and speculation about who would succeed him.

Copts showed up in large numbers at the Cathedral in Abbassiya to celebrate the pope’s return. They enthusiastically applauded the pope upon his appearance, shouting phrases like: We love you, Pope. This was preceded by a major public celebration on Nov. 11 upon the pope s arrival from the US.

The large numbers of participants at the conference openly discussed for the first time issues long considered controversial by church members, including the relationship of clerics with secularists, expanding the role of seculars in running church affairs, church trials, and reassessing the laws governing the choice of the pope.

Conference coordinator Kamal Zakher s speech did not directly criticize Pope Shenouda III but he held the pope’s aides responsible for refusing to allow dialogue within the Coptic Church, asserting that they prevent voices calling for reform from reaching the pope.

Zakher pointed out that the objective of the conference was to offer a secular view of church problems rather than settle personal disputes as some people claim. He added that their view would be presented to the pope, the ultimate decision maker in the church.

Church spokesperson Father Mark said that the church rejects the idea of discussing church matters outside the church. He affirmed that the church did not need reform. In response to the participation of some Muslim and other Christian denominations in the conference, Father Mark dismissed the idea that Coptic Church problems be discussed by those who were not Coptic Orthodox.

Citizenship issues researcher Sameh Fawzi told ITALICS The Daily Star Egypt ITALICS: The principle of conducting dialogue is a positive and required thing. However, the conference failed on many accounts. It failed to attract Coptic elites. The organizers failed to attract major sections of the Coptic street and thus the impact of this conference remains limited.

Fawzi explained that Pope Shenouda enjoys great popularity among Copts although some Copts disagree with him. The pope, he added, is a charismatic figure whose absence would leave a void in the Coptic Church, a void that could not be filled easily, which is why Copts are expected to undergo an unsettled period when searching for his successor.

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