SHAFAQNA – Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday for the funeral of a senior cleric, the first visit by the head of Coptic Christians in decades, the church said.
He will attend the funeral of Archbishop Anba Abraham, the head of the Coptic Church in the Holy Land, who died on Wednesday at the age of 72.
The church’s Facebook page announced his arrival, sharing photos of the pope and his delegation in Jerusalem.
The funeral will take place on Saturday in the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem’s Old City, adjacent to the Holy Sepulchre, the church said.
Egyptian Copts were forbidden from visiting Israel in 1980 by their late Pope Shenouda III in protest at Israel’s occupation of east Jerusalem.
Despite the ban, hundreds of Egyptian Copts have visited Israel over the past few years during Easter.
Shenouda passed away in 2012 after leading the ancient orthodox church for 40 years.
“The visit is to attend the funeral and nothing more,” a spokesman for the church in Egypt, Boulos Halim, told AFP.
“The position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem without all our Egyptian (Muslim) brothers.”
While the body of his predecessor was returned to Egypt for burial, Abraham specifically requested a burial in the holy city, according to Halim.
“He wrote in his will that he wanted to be buried in Jerusalem,” he said.
The dominant form of Christianity in Egypt, Coptics make up between six and 10 percent of the country’s estimated 90 million population.
In Israel, however, the church is one of the smaller of the 13 recognised Christian sects, with only a few hundred families.
The entrance to the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem is one of the 14 Stations of the Cross — the route said to have been taken by Jesus on the day he died.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met with Tawadros II in Egypt earlier this month.