Pope of Alexandria to visit Brazil
- [01/27/2006 - 11:55]
Pope of Alexandria to visit Brazil
Shenouda III is the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which
gathers the absolute majority of Christians in Egypt and, according
to tradition, was founded by St Mark in the first century of the
Christian era. The Pope is coming to consecrate the first Coptic
Church in the country, in São Paulo. 'He will give his blessing to
the whole of Brazil,' said father Aghason Anba Paul.
Sérgio Tomisaki/Agência Meios
Aghason at Saint Mark's Church: all paintings and furniture were
brought from Egypt
São Paulo -Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria will make his first visit
to Brazil in February. He is the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox
Church and main Christian authority in Egypt. "He will give his
blessing to the whole of Brazil," said Aghason Anba Paul, priest of
the only Coptic Church in the country, located in the Jabaquara
neighbourhood, in the southern region of the city of São Paulo (SE
Indeed, the main reason for Shenouda's visit is to consecrate the
church, completed in September 2001, and which already works in
practical terms with services on Wednesdays and Sundays (see
schedules below). The Egyptian patriarch is used to travelling to
hold direct contact with the faithful around the world. Before
arriving in São Paulo, on the 10th, he will pass through South
Africa, then follows to Bolivia, the United States and London, in
England. "The Coptic Church is spread around the world, we came to
Brazil quite late," said father Aghason.
Shenouda has headed the Coptic Church, which gathers the absolute
majority of Egyptian Christians, for 34 years and is the 117th Pope
in a line that, according to tradition, started with St Mark in the
first century of the Christian era. In the same way as St Peter is
considered the first Pope by Catholics, St Mark was the first Pope
for the Coptics. "The apostles of Christ set about on mission
throughout the world and St Mark evangelist went to Egypt," stated
Aghason. "At the time the Egyptians suffered a lot with roman
domination," he added.
The Egyptian popes are chosen in quite a different manner to the
Conclave of Vatican cardinals. Gathered at the Cairo Cathedral,
bishops, members of churches' councils and other religious
authorities vote on a list of eligible popes. After a service, the
three names most voted for are written on pieces of paper and
deposited in a jar. Then a child is called to take out one of the
pieces of paper. This is done three times and the name that is
repeated becomes the chosen one. If there is a draw, the ritual is
repeated. "The name of Pope Shenouda came out three times in a row,"
Shenouda, aged 82, was born in Asyut, in the south of Egypt, and his
baptism name is Nazeer Gayed. As in Catholicism, when named pope,
the Egyptian orthodox patriarch adopts the name of a saint.
According to Aghason, he has more than 50 years of monastic life and
wrote more than 120 religious books. Shenouda was the first Coptic
pope to visit the Vatican in 1,500 years, in 1973, when he was
hosted by Paul VI. The visit was returned on the year 2000 by John
Paul II during a journey to Egypt.
"Pope Shenouda likes his land, Egypt, very much, and is considered a
great political and religious authority," said Aghason. "Every
Wednesday he lectures at the Cairo Cathedral to about 5,000 people,"
he added. The patriarch of Egyptian Christians arrives in Brazil on
the 10th of February. The service to consecrate he church in
Jabaquara will take place on the 12th at 8:30 a.m. and will be open
to the public (see below).
Saint Mark in Alexandria
In the mid first century, after preaching throughout Egypt, Mark
established his church in Alexandria. That is why the city is
considered the centre of Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church. But in
reality, nowadays the Coptic Cathedral is in Cairo and Shenouda
shares his time between the Egyptian capital and the Monastery of
Saint Bishoy, located in the desert about 100 kilometres northeast
of Cairo, and every two weeks he travels to Alexandria. The Coptic
Church has a long monastic tradition.
Only in the 5th Century A.D. did the Coptic Church become an
autonomous institution. According to Aghason, although there is no
great disagreement with regard to the Catholic Church, there are
conceptual differences. The Copts do not believe, for example, in
the existence of Purgatory and they differ from the Catholics with
regard to aspects of the nature of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the stretches of Christian history that is most revered by
the Copts is the passage of the Holy Family through Egypt. According
to tradition, Joseph, Mary and Jesus spent three and a half years in
the country, after Herod the Great ordered the "Killing of the
Innocents" in Bethlehem. There is also, in the Coptic neighbourhood
of Cairo, a crypt where Christ and his family are supposed to have
Another difference is that the Coptic Church permits married
priests, but only if they were married before being ordained. Those
who opt for a monastic life, however, may not be married.
"Coptic" is a Westernised term for the Arabic word "qibt", which
comes from the Greek "aigyptios", or simply "Egyptian". That
is, "Coptic" means "Egyptian". And the Copts believe they descend
from the ancient Egyptians. They even have their own language, also
called Coptic, and their writing is similar to Greek. The language,
however, is only used in services. In their daily life, the
Christian population speaks Arabic. "And some families from southern
Egypt are still fluent in the language," stated Aghason.
Copts in São Paulo
In the church in São Paulo the service is in Portuguese. "Most of
the people who come to the services are Brazilians and it would be
hard to understand if it were not in Portuguese," stated the priest.
Parts of the ceremony, however, are in Arabic and Coptic. "This is
to, at the same time, give the church its own climate," he said. The
climate is also provided by the paintings and furniture brought from
Egypt. The baptismal font is as large as a bathtub, large enough to
bathe the whole body of the child, following the Coptic tradition.
Aghason arrived in Brazil in August 1993, just two months after
having been ordained priest. "I was ordained with this mission," he
said. But why Brazil? "So as to provide a service to the Egyptians
living in the country, we are a very ancient church and are present
all around the world. In the United States, for example, there are
over 100 churches, in Canada 20 or 30. There are also churches in
France, London, Italy, where we even have two bishops, in all the
countries in Africa, there is a new church in Mexico and one in
Bolivia," he added.
Proving his thesis that the Copts are not that far from the
Catholics, Aghason stated that when he arrived in Brazil, he spent a
year and a half living in São Bento monastery, one of the most
traditional catholic institutions of São Paulo. He then worked in
the Syrian Orthodox Church. Only in 1997 did they purchase a plot of
land for the construction of their Saint Mark Church, in Jabaquara
neighbourhood. He also said that many of the people who go to the
church are Catholic.
Aghason was also born in southern Egypt and his baptism name is
Girgis Akhnoukh Sereig. Coptic priests adopt names of saints when
they are ordained, in this case Anba Paul means Saint Paul. Before
becoming a monk in 1988, he graduated in Chemistry and spent four
years living in the United States. Today, apart from speaking
Portuguese, he has naturalized himself Brazilian. He lives behind
the church with four Cocker Spaniel.
Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church
Rua São Borja, 201, Cidade Vargas, Jabaquara, São Paulo
Sundays at 09:00 am and Wednesdays at 06:30 pm
On the day of consecration, the service will begin at 08:30 am
*Translated by Silvia Lindsey and Mark Ament