On Sunday, February 12th, His Holiness consecrated our new Coptic Church in Santa Cruz Bolivia, after the name of St. Mark the Evangelist. The bishops who participated in the blessed consecration were His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy, His Grace Bishop Antonious Markos, His Grace Bishop Serapion, His Grace Bishop Youssef, His Grace Bishop Youahnes, His Grace Bishop Boulos, HIs Grace Bishop Suriel, and His Grace Bishop Kyrilos Ava Mina. On Monday, February 13th, His Holiness consecrated the church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in the name of St. Mary and St. Mark. The same bishops participated as well as His Grace Bishop Angaelos.
The following news article was published by ANBA, Brazil-Arab News Agency on February 13, 2006 (http://www.anba.com.br/ingles/noticia.php?id=10149), recording the blessed visit of our beloved Pope to Bolivia.
Visit by the Pope of Alexandria Unites Cultures in São Paulo
By Alexandre Rocha and Isaura Daniel, Translated by Mark Ament
The ceremony for consecration of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Brazil brought together people from various origins and beliefs yesterday. ‘I would like to thank you for the reception I had,’ stated Pope Shenouda III. On Saturday, during a luncheon offered by the Arab Brazilian Chamber, the patriarch of the Copts stated that the Arab-Brazilian community should serve as an example of the dignity and generosity of the Arabs.
São Paulo – The first visit of Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria to Brazil ended yesterday (12) after the mass for consecration of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church of São Paulo, the only temple of the kind in the country. “I was very happy to come to Brazil to learn about our people and our church here,” he said to ANBA after the ceremony. “I would like to thank you for the reception I had,” added the patriarch of the church that congregates most of the Egyptian Christians.
The ceremony, which took around 3:30 hours, crowded the small church located in the Jabaquara neighbourhood, in the southern region of the city of São Paulo. And what could be seen was a sample of the diversity that exists in the city. Those present were of Egyptian origin, Arabs and Brazilians of other origins, as well as followers of various beliefs: Copts, other orthodox religions, Roman Catholics and Muslims.
“São Paulo is an excellent example of relations between the various religions,” stated cardinal Cláudio Hummes, archbishop of São Paulo, who was at the Coptic temple to greet Pope Shenouda. According to the cardinal, all orthodox churches are considered sisters by the Catholics. “It is therefore a pleasure to meet him here,” he said. “The Coptic community in Brazil is small, but not less important,” he added.
The service itself showed a synthesis of this meeting of cultures, as it mixed prayers and chants in Arabic, Coptic, which is similar to Greek, English and Portuguese. The ceremony was divided into three parts: the pre-service, a kind of preparation for the service; consecration of the church, which involved the consecration of the altar and of the religious images, which were anointed with holy oil brought from Alexandria; and the mass itself.
“Now this church is a sacred house of God where we all can pray,” stated Shenouda after the consecration. “Today it is possible to say that the whole of Brazil has been blessed with the visit of Pope Shenouda,” added priest Aghason Anba Paul, who is responsible for the church in São Paulo.
To the president of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Antonio Sarkis Jr., who was at the church, the presence of Pope Shenouda once again shows the importance of the Arab community in São Paulo and Brazil. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” he said. The Arab Brazilian Chamber was also represented by the organization’s marketing vice president, Rubens Hannun.
The importance of the Arab community was also stressed by Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who sent his head of cabinet, Gilberto Carvalho, to accompany the mass and deliver a message of thanks to the Coptic patriarch. “Apart from the presence of Copts here, Brazil has strong relations with the Egyptians, with the Arabs and with the Africans. A proof of this is that the president is currently in Africa,” stated Carvalho. “The president considered it important to send a representative to the ceremony, as a sign of respect, caring and thanks for the visit,” he added. President Lula has just ended a tour of the African continent.
The meeting of cultures was also clear among the faithful. The young Sérgio Roberto de Lima Lee, aged 16, has been a deacon at the Coptic church of São Paulo since it opened its doors, in 2001. Deacons are not preachers, but they help the priest during the service. They are similar to altar boys in the Catholic church, but have greater responsibilities. A curious fact is that Sérgio’s father is Korean and he has no Egyptian or Arab origin.
“I did not know the church, I had never even heard of it. But a neighbour started talking about it and we started coming, and I liked it,” stated the boy, who lives in the vicinity of the church and whose family originally went to the Roman Catholic church.
Another case is that of translator and interpreter Carlos Paschoa, also a deacon. He lives in the city of Rio de Janeiro, also in southeastern Brazil, and, like Sérgio, is not a descendent of Arabs. Paschoa stated that he started going to the Coptic temple after translating some material for the church. John Abadir, another deacon, is North-American and of Egyptian descent. He came to Brazil just to aid in the visit of Shenouda.
Egyptian tradesman Ibrahim Saad, who has been in Brazil for 12 years, lived a special emotion. His daughter, Sofia, three months old, was one of the two children baptised by the Coptic patriarch at the ceremony yesterday. “I am very happy,” said Saad, who volunteered to drive the Pope around during his visit.
Arabs in Brazil: An Example of Generosity
On Saturday, during a luncheon offered by the Arab Brazilian Chamber at Hotel Gran Meliá Mofarrej, Shenouda III sent a message to the Arab community. “May you be an example of the dignity and generosity of the Arabs,” stated the religious man to the group of 60 people who met him. “I am very happy for the visit to Brazil, as here I met all these brothers who did so much to honour me,” he said.
Shenouda also received information about the Arab community that lives in the country. “The strength of the Arab community is expressive in Brazil. We are over 10 million descendents,” stated Antonio Sarkis Jr during the luncheon. Sarkis also told the religious head about the work that the Arab Chamber executes to bring Brazil closer to the Arab world. “The Arab Chamber was established 53 years ago to integrate Arabs and Brazilians and strengthen trade and cultural relations,” stated the organization president. Sarkis stressed that the Arab community felt honoured by receiving the Pope in São Paulo. “His Holiness deserves all our admiration for the work he has been developing for over 50 years of monastic life,” he competed.
At the luncheon, the dean of the Council of Arab Ambassadors and Libyan ambassador to Brazil, Mohamed Matri, also spoke about the importance of the work developed by the Pope all around the world. “His Holiness is not only a light to the Middle East, but a light to the whole of humanity,” stated Matri. “We admire his fight for justice and for truth, so that they may prevail. His trip to this part of the world represents a clear expression of his efforts to spread love and the world of God around the world,” added the dean.
Matri gave to the Pope a stone macaw, a typically Brazilian bird, and Sarkis a plate in his honour. Among those present were directors of the Arab Brazilian Chamber, ambassadors and religious authorities.
Food for the Faithful
After the meeting with representatives of the Arab community, Shenouda III gave a press conference in which he spoke about the opening of the Coptic church in Brazil and the presence of his religion in Latin America. “We have come here to take care of our Egyptian and Brazilian faithful. It is important for us to take care of our sons all around the world, providing them all with spiritual food.”
Despite having come to São Paulo to inaugurate the first temple of the Coptic Church in the country, he pointed out that the objective of the church is not to build temples, but to take care of the spiritual life of the people. At the end of the press conference, Shenouda asked for peace and blessed the journalists present. He distributed religious symbols made by the women of his church.
Yesterday, Shenouda travelled to Bolivia, the second phase of his first trip to Latin America in his 34 years as a pope. There he will consecrate one more church, and he then follows on to the United States.