Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby visited the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and opened his sermon with a surprising comparison. Earlier he visited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
“It has been an interesting and useful day,” the archbishop told the packed cathedral of his high profile itinerary, “but worshipping with you is the most important part.
“Here we meet with Jesus Christ and become his witnesses.”
Welby’s visit was to offer condolences for Egypt’s most recent witnesses, the twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian martyred in Libya in February. The word ‘martyr’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’
Symbolically, Welby delivered to Pope Tawadros twenty-one letters written by grieving British families. One is believed to have been related to David Haines, the aid worker captured in Syria and beheaded last year.
“Why have the martyrs of Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” Welby asked. “The way these brothers lived and died communicated that their testimony is trustworthy.”
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, hosted Welby and welcomed him warmly.
But an unfortunate symbolism coincided his visit with the release of another video from the Islamic State in Libya, this time of Ethiopian Christians. Two groups totaling twenty-eight people were martyred, one beheaded and the other shot in the head.
Welby paid tribute to them, along with others killed for their faith in Kenya and Nigeria.
He noted the certainty of their resurrection, but stated, “We must grieve for them, support their families, and seek to change the circumstances that lead to their deaths.”
Welby’s sermon did not go into specifics, but he has earlier defended military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while urging local governments to exercise their mandated use of force to restore order.
And concerning the flood of refugees to the region, “Europe as a whole must stand up and do what is right,” he told the BBC, and share the burden of accepting them.
According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 125,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt. Refuge Egypt, a social service arm of the Anglican Church in Egypt, extends food and medical care to those the UNHCR designates as of particular concern.
Welby praised the Christians of the Middle East for their trustworthy witness. But in order to be communicated, it must be acted out.
“If the church hears the world’s cries for help, but turns its back,” he said, “they will not believe in the love of Christ.”
Visiting with President Sisi, the archbishop heard him emphasize that Egyptian Christians are not a minority, but enjoy their full rights as all other Egyptian citizens.
Visiting with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, he heard that love and mercy are the two elements that must characterize both international and human relations, and that the true picture of Islam and Christianity must be presented to the world.
“When a community is full of light,” Welby said in his sermon, “people will see through it and perceive God, and know they are loved by Christ.”
During communion, he sought to demonstrate this. Aware the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops present could not share in full fellowship, Welby went to them and knelt down, asking for a blessing. In response, the two reciprocated and each prayed for the other in turn.
So many are having hard times in this region, Welby said, he wanted to come and offer condolences. Finishing his sermon, hepromised the audience that he was praying for them in the Middle East, but closed with a request of his own, for the West.
“Please pray for us, that in our comfort we do not forget to be faithful witnesses.”
Thanks to journalist Jayson Casper for this article on the visit of Archbishop Jusin Welby. He writes for Arab West Report, Christianity Today, Lapido Media, and other publications, and blogs at asenseofbelonging.org. He has previously written articles on two Anglican interfaith initiative, the CARAVAN art exhibition and the Imam-Priest Exchange. Read more about the Archbishop’s visit here.