A leading Coptic archbishop said that Christians must “walk in the shoes” of those facing global Christian persecution, while overcoming a “false” divide between churches of the East and the West.
“As Christians, we believe in the example of Christ, who came and walked in our shoes, the humanity, to be our advocate.”
“And if we’re going to advocate for others, we’re going to need to walk in their shoes as well, whether they be in the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia or anywhere else,” Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and an international religious freedom advocate, told CNA in an interview last week.
“I think one of the false barriers we have is this ‘Christians of the East and Christians of the West’ mentality. A Christian is a Christian. The Body of Christ is the Body of Christ,” he added.
Archbishop Angaelos talked with CNA at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. from July 15-19. The meeting - the second of its kind - featured religious and civic leaders from around the world, as well as delegations from 106 countries, meeting to discuss religious persecution and strategies to promote and defend religious freedom.
The archbishop, who spoke at the Ministerial, is the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, appointed to the role in 2017 after having served as General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom since 1999. He has also been recognized by Queen Elizabeth II as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his “Services to International Religious Freedom.”
The beheading of 20 Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian Christian by ISIS militants on the shores of Libya in February of 2015, filmed for global distribution by ISIS, was a “turning point” in global consciousness of Christian persecution, the archbishop said.
“I think they captured the imagination of people. I think it was one red line too many that was crossed,” he said. “They saw that these men were brutally killed for no other reason than they were Christians, and the grace with which they reacted was iconic.”
Also, he said, the refugee crisis used to be a “distant” phenomenon, he said, but now “Western countries have had to deal with the situation, and so it’s become more prevalent, more understood.” He also credited Pope Francis with helping bring international attention to the refugee crisis.
Christians are persecuted in more countries than any other religious group, according to the Pew Research Center, being harassed, detained, imprisoned, tortured, or killed for their faith in 144 different countries.
Christians in the West must actively “engage with” their persecuted brethren elsewhere, “speak with the people on the ground, see what they need, see how they want to be helped rather than how we think they should be helped,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure this isn’t about us and our conscience, that we just feel like we’ve done something well. It’s actually about standing with people who are facing existential challenges,” he said.
Coptic Christians in Egypt continue to face harassment and acts of violence by their neighbors, but also face a quiet persecution of marginalization in the country with only “a few token appointments” to government positions, and “no significant appointments.”
This persecution is not a recent phenomenon, he said; the modern persecution dates back to the revolution in the 1950s with the revolution and the gradual radicalization of Egypt.
“We’ve started to see a change in Egypt, but it’s going to take a long time, it’s going to have to be intentional and programmatic,” he said.
The archbishop praised Pope Francis’ work to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians.
In 2013, Pope Francis referenced an “ecumenism of blood” that can unite Christians. Archbishop Angaelos noted that heard Pope Francis say that “before any of the major attacks had happened.”
“I think if you look at our history and our tradition, we have shared a history of martyrdom, a history of people dying for their faith,” he said.
“And so I am very thankful to His Holiness Pope Francis for having been a wonderful and clear and courageous and gracious voice, and I am thankful for the relationship he has with Pope Tawadros.”