Cairo (Agenzia Fides) - This Easter, more than 4,000 Egyptian Coptic Christians made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land to celebrate in places linked to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The data, provided by the network of 27 tour operators offering pilgrimages to the Holy Land, is significant considering that for the past two years the pandemic has prevented pilgrimages and trips from taking place, and if consideration is also given to the bans that in the past prevented Egyptian Coptic Christians from traveling to the Holy City for decades, a side effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Egyptian tour operators have started organizing Christian pilgrimages according to precise regulations issued by the Egyptian authorities with the intention of maintaining a high level of vigilance against measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel to Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land - including the cities of Nazareth and Bethlehem - has been approved by Egyptian authorities only for pilgrims aged 40 and over who have received at least two doses of the coronavirus vaccine. These restrictions imposed by health authorities, and more importantly the general economic crisis, have — according to Copts United — prevented even more Coptic pilgrims from traveling to the Holy Land in larger numbers this year.
I n the past (see Fides 13/1/2022), a real ban on going to Jerusalem was imposed in 1979 on all Orthodox Copts by the Coptic Pope at the time, Patriarch Shenuda III (1923-2012). During the years when the Arab-Israeli conflict escalated, Pope Shenuda III banned followers of his Church from making pilgrimages to the Jewish state, and he did not change his position even after relations normalized between Egypt and Israel. This ban was not formally lifted after the death of Patriarch Shenuda, but already in 2014 the trip to the Holy Land by about 90 Coptic Christians during Holy Week made it clear that the anti-pilgrimage regulations were outdated in the relations existing between the two neighboring nations.
The trip to Jerusalem, in November 2015, of Patriarch Tawadros II himself, on the occasion of the funeral of Archbishop Abraham, leader of the local Coptic Orthodox community, undoubtedly contributed to further stimulate Coptic pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Then, on January 7, on the occasion of Coptic Christmas, Pope Tawadros explicitly declared in a television interview that the Coptic Christians of Egypt do not contravene any provision of ecclesiastical authority when they go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the same interview, Pope Tawadros recalled that since the 13th century the chronicles attest to the presence of a Coptic bishop residing in the Holy City, pointing out that the suspension of pilgrimages from Egypt also contributed to the decrease in the presence of the Copts in the Holy Land. The Coptic Patriarch also mentioned the repeated invitations to visit Jerusalem extended to Egyptians by Palestinian President Abu Mazen during his official visits to Egypt. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 27/4/2022)