WCC ECHOS Commission visits Al Azhar Mosque and University and Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Cairo

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Members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Youth (ECHOS), visited Al Azhar Mosque and University on 12 May for a meeting with the grand sheikh and the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs.

The purpose of the meeting was to strengthen commission members’ understanding of inter-religious dialogue, with a particular focus on its relevance for the challenges facing youth today.

In meeting with the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs, ECHOS chairperson Martina Viktorie Kopecká, from the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, inquired about what the minister sees as the role of youth in inter-religious dialogue today.

WCC ECHOS Commission visits Al Azhar Mosque and University and Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Cairo

ECHOS commissioners meeting with the grand sheikh and the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs at Al Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo, Egypt. © WCC/Albin Hillert

“Young people are half of the present, and all of the future. Therefore, we must give space for young people to build their own vision,” the minister said. He stressed the importance of raising awareness that Islam, like Christianity, is a religion of peace. ”And wherever there is an active youth in inter-religious dialogue, we strengthen peace,” he added.

With the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, ECHOS commissioners reflected on issues of inter-religious marriage, the increase in atheism among youth, and the possibility of future cooperation between ECHOS and Al Azhar.

“I see you as ambassadors of heaven. We recognize Christianity and Judaism, like Islam, as religions of the Book, and therefore accept these as forming one community,” the sheikh said. “Al Azhar is ready and willing to cooperate with ECHOS in any way you wish, so we can spread our faith to people in the East and in the West.”

The ECHOS visit to Al Azhar was part of a four-day meeting in Cairo, during which the commission worked on strategies for their future work, as well as discussing the role of young people in the church and in society, youth contributions to issues of justice and peace, and youth responses to current challenges in the areas of religion and violence, discrimination, gender-based violence, and youth unemployment.

The ECHOS meeting also involved visits of Christian representatives and institutions in the Cairo area, such as Bishop Moussa of the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric of Youth Affairs, and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate; and Bishop Yohannes, president of the Bishopric of Social and Ecumenical Services.

Then the ECHOS visited the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and Bishop Yohannes, President of the Bishopric of Social and Ecumenical Services. The visiting was a sign of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East region, was an opportunity for the new ECHOS commissioners to learn about the traditions and present-day situation of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

WCC ECHOS Commission visits Al Azhar Mosque and University and Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Cairo


Bishop Yohannes stressed the importance in the Coptic Orthodox Church of the historical roots of Christianity in the region to the ECHOS members, most notably as an area where the Holy Family spent several years of their lives. He also described some of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s most central traditions in being a church of apostolic witness, martyrdom and monasticism, and of heroism in faith.


Reflecting on the role of youth in the church, Bishop Yohannes then shared with the ECHOS commissioners a story about a dialogue between a priest and a youth person: “A church without youth is a church without a future,” said the priest. “But youth without church, are youth without a future,” replied the youth.


Relating to the importance of martyrs in the Coptic tradition, ECHOS commissioner Aleshia Johnson, from the Anglican Church of Canada Indigenous Ministries, asked how the Coptic Orthodox Church received and responded to the news of the recent execution of Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Libya.


Bishop Yohannes said: “They were so strong. They were shocked, but seemed to feel no fear. Instead they looked to heaven, facing martyrdom with great courage.” He then stressed that the actions of the Islamic State are not indicative of a conflict between Christians and Muslims in the region as such, but rather a problem of fanaticism.


“The relationship between Christians and moderate Muslims in the area has a long history, and it is good and improving,” he said. “On the day of the funeral service, I met Muslims who said to me: ‘Condolences to us, not to you, for these actions.’ This understanding strengthens the relationship between moderate Muslims and Christians,” he added.

Source: oikoumene.org (May 13, 2015)