Egyptian Pope travels to Jerusalem, Coptic pilgrimages still banned

Published November 26th, 2015 - 02:00 GMT

Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II made an “exceptional” trip on Thursday to Jerusalem to head the funeral prayer for Metropolitan Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Near East Bishop Abraham.

The visit marks the first by an iconic figure from the Coptic Church to the Holy Land since 1967.

Bishop Abraham, considered to be the second most important figure following the Pope in the Coptic Holy Synod, passed away on Wednesday.

The late Pope Shenouda III issued a papal ban on pilgrimages to Israel in 1979, a policy that remains in place today as a clear stance against the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.

Spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church Father Boules Halim tells Ahram Online that this is an "exceptional situation," stressing that the stance of the Coptic Orthodox Church will always be the same.

"The stance of the Coptic Orthdox Church concerning travelling to the Holy Lands will always remain the same. The Pope's visit came as an exception," says Halim.

According to Halim, Tawadros II will not make any visits in the Holy Land, and he will return to Cairo immediately following the funeral prayers.

Late Pope Shenouda III was staunchly anti-Zionist and against the normalisation of relations with Tel Aviv for the sake of Arab nationalism. He never paid a visit to the Holy Land during his 41 years in charge of the Coptic papacy.

However, 2015 has witnessed an increase in the numbers of Coptic pilgrims heading to Jerusalem during Easter week, despite the religious travel ban.

Since the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978 there have been no official travel restrictions; the restrictions in place in this instance were established by the Christian Orthodox Church. 

By Marina Barsoum

© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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