Pope Francis and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II, led the general audience at the Vatican on May 10, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, May 10, 2023 / 04:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II, led the general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

In a change from the usual pattern of Pope Francis’ weekly public audience, the two leaders sat together on the platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The gathering opened with a speech by Tawadros II in Arabic, followed by Pope Francis’ own greeting to the Coptic Orthodox leader.

Tawadros II’s visit to Rome this week marks the anniversary of a historic encounter between St. Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria in 1973. The meeting 50 years ago this year marked a renewal in relations between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.

During the general audience, Pope Francis said the 1973 encounter was “the first meeting between a bishop of Rome and a patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which culminated in the signing of a memorable joint Christological declaration, exactly on May 10.”

“In memory of this event, His Holiness Tawadros visited me for the first time on May 10, 10 years ago, a few months after his and my election, and proposed to celebrate every May 10 as the ‘Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship,’ which we have been celebrating since that time every year,” he said.

“We call each other on the phone, send greetings, and remain good brothers, we have not quarreled,” Pope Francis added.

Tawadros II, 70, is the 118th pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. There are an estimated 10 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world, roughly 90% of whom live in Egypt.

While in Rome, Tawadros II will also have a private meeting with Pope Francis, celebrate a liturgy at the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran, and visit the local Coptic Orthodox community.

Pope Francis thanked the religious leader for accepting his invitation to visit Rome and the Vatican for the anniversary.

“I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit will illuminate your visit to Rome, the important meetings you will have here, and especially our personal conversations,” he said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment to the growing friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.”

The pope prayed that the Lord would help the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches to grow in communion.

He also remembered the sacrifice of the 21 Coptic martyrs who were kidnapped and beheaded on a beach in Libya in 2015.

Reflecting on the “Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship” May 10, Tawadros II said: “We have chosen love, even if we go against the tide of the greedy and selfish world.”

“Despite the differences in our roots and affiliations,” he added, “we are united by the love of Christ who dwells in us, and the host of our apostolic fathers and saints surround and guide us.”

The general audience proceeded with the usual greetings of Pope Francis to the different language groups. The encounter concluded with the singing of the Our Father in Latin and the blessings of both Pope Francis and Tawadros II on participants.

Tawadros II was accompanied by a Coptic Orthodox delegation.

This story was updated at 6:12 a.m. with quotes from the speech of Tawadros II.