Nov. 27, 2015
Last Thursday, Tawadros II, pope of the Egypt-based Coptic church, came to Jerusalem—the first visit of a Coptic pope since the 19th century. The decision comes on the heels of Tawadros’ gradual easing of his predecessor’s ban on travel to Jerusalem, which has been in place since the Camp David accords. Samuel Tadros writes:
It is the dream of every Copt to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem before one’s death, and for centuries the Copts did. . . . The decision [to ban the pilgrimages] was purely political. . . . Many sins could be forgiven in the Arab world, [the previous pope] presumably reasoned, but visiting Israel is not one of them. . . .
Why did the [current] pope decide to go to Jerusalem? He must have known that he will pay a heavy political price for his decision. But since his ascension to the papacy, Tawadros has shown that once he is convinced of the soundness of a decision, he ignores its political costs. No matter what his calculus might have been, there is no turning back now. Next April, when it is time for pilgrimage, thousands of Copts will make the journey, no matter what the church says officially. Pope Tawadros’ short trip may not be as historic as [President Anwar] Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel, but for Egypt’s Copts it may prove to be no less significant.