VATICAN CITY -- When one Christian community is suffering, other Christians must offer assistance, Pope Benedict XVI told Coptic Orthodox and other Oriental Orthodox church leaders.
The pope met Jan. 28 with members of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue who were holding their annual meeting in Rome; the 2011 meeting came less than a month after a bomb attack on a Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt, left 23 people dead.
"Many of you come from regions where Christian individuals and communities face trials and difficulties that are a cause of deep concern for us all," the pope told representatives of the Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian and Eritrean Orthodox churches.
"All Christians need to work together in mutual acceptance and trust in order to serve the cause of peace and justice," he said, adding a prayer that the example of the martyrs of both churches would give Christians strength and courage in the face of adversity.
Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Egypt, the co-chairman of the dialogue, thanked Pope Benedict for his prayers for the dead and the injured. The Coptic leader also praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's commitment to protecting Egyptian Christians and he told the pope that hundreds of Muslims came out Jan. 7 -- when Copts celebrated Christmas -- to show their support for their Christian neighbors.
The Egyptian government and a leading group of Muslim scholars objected to some of Pope Benedict's comments on the Coptic church bombing, saying they gave the impression that the government does not guarantee the freedom and safety of Egyptian Christians.
Paulist Father Ron Roberson, an official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and member of the dialogue commission, said everyone involved in the dialogue was anxious to know how Egyptian Christians were faring, but the situation was not a primary focus on the meeting.
The Catholic-Oriental Orthodox commission's theological dialogue concentrated on "the communion and communication" that existed among different communities in the first five centuries of Christianity.
The Oriental Orthodox churches trace their origins to the Christian communities that did not accept the wording of the Council of Chalcedon's definition in 451 that Christ was fully human and fully divine. Between 1971 and 1996, the Catholic Church and the individual Oriental Orthodox churches resolved their differences over the Chalcedon statement.
In looking at how the churches maintained unity until 451 despite linguistic, cultural and liturgical differences, the dialogue aims at offering suggestions for how future unity could be achieved without requiring total uniformity.
Pope Benedict told the dialogue participants, "We can only be grateful that after almost 1,500 years of separation, we still find agreement about the sacramental nature of the church, about apostolic succession in priestly service and about the impelling need to bear witness to the Gospel of our lord and savior Jesus Christ in the world."