Today, Benedict XVI received His Beatitude Antonios Naguib Patriarch of Alexandria for Catholic Copts who is officially visiting the Holy See for the first time since his election in March of this year.
In his French address, the Pope asked the patriarch to give his greetings to all the bishops, priests, and faithful of his patriarchy, as well as to Cardinal Stephanos II Ghattas, Patriarch Emeritus of Alexandria.
"The communion in Christ that unites us and all Catholics around the Successor of Peter is best seen in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy," said the Holy Father.
While recalling that the seat of Alexandria was the "first patriarchy after Rome" during the first five centuries of Christianity, Benedict XVI emphasized that its patriarchal community is the "bearer of a rich spiritual, liturgical, and theological tradition - the Alexandrian tradition -, whose treasures form part of the Church's patrimony". He assured the patriarch of his prayers and support in the "special duty that the ecumenical Second Vatican Council entrusted to the Eastern Catholic Churches: "to make progress toward the unity of all Christians, above all Eastern Christians".
The Patriarch of Alexandria for Catholic Copts also has "an important role in interreligious dialogue to develop fraternity and respect among Christians and Muslims". The Pope also invited His Beatitude to "continue encouraging the theological and spiritual pursuit of his tradition".
"In today's world, your mission is of great importance for the faithful and for all human persons", the Holy Father said, praising the attention the patriarch has given to the "human, spiritual, moral, and intellectual education of youth through a network of quality schools and catechesis that constitute a service to the entire society".
Referring to the formation of priests the Pope underlined that "the vitality of Christian communities in the world today needs pastors (...) who are truly witnesses to the Word of God and guides to help the faithful be always more deeply rooted in the life and the mission of Christ".
"I know well what place consecrated life occupies in the Church, " concluded the Holy Father. "May poverty, chastity, and obedience, lived in accordance with the gospel message, be a witness and a call to holiness for today's world!"
There are no photos of this meeting up on the secular news services yet - not that I imagine there ever will be - but if you go to the L'Osservatore Romano photo website - you'll see some. Although this link will shift and change as they add photos. It just looks like everyone was really happy to be there. Here - this is a great photo - if you can peek behind the watermark...
The Coptic monastery known as Deir Al-Surian, or the Monastery of the Syrians, contains more than 3,000 books as well as a vast number of texts in Syriac, Aramaic (the language of Christ), Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic. They date upwards from the fifth century and today, as a result of the revival in Coptic monasticism in recent years, a new generation of educated monks are anxious to safeguard this heritage. Both Syrian and Coptic monks are engaged in their conservation, as well as restoration of the monastery itself.
Collaborating with them on what is known as the Deir Al-Surian Library Project is the Levantine Foundation. The aim is twofold: to salvage old manuscripts which, after surviving a century and a half in a living community, are in danger of being lost, and to conserve the remaining literary inheritance of more than 1,000 Syriac manuscripts for future generations.
The project is moving ahead and members of the conservation team, with the help of volunteers and on a shoe-string budget, are surveying, restoring, cataloguing and storing the Syriac texts in a suitable environment. A digital photographic record of each manuscript will eventually be made to facilitate access for scholars, and appropriate storage for the manuscripts and facilities for visiting scholars is also planned.
Father Bigoul Al-Suryani, the curator of the library, has good reason for being enthusiastic about the project. "Storage is particularly important because most of the manuscripts are in a perilous state and continue to deteriorate," he says. "Hopefully, with adequate support, our aims can be achieved. Monks are being trained in various conservation techniques, not only with the manuscripts but also the wall paintings."