Q. I saw that Pope Francis assigned a Coptic (Eastern-rite) priest to a Vatican office. That seems like an interesting move. Any thoughts on the wisdom of such a move?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Coptic Christians are members of an ancient Egyptian community with roots attributed to the apostolic endeavors of St. Mark. The Copts are one of six Eastern Catholic communions (the others are Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite and Syriac) with theologies that share the fundamentals of Roman Catholicism, although their leaders exercise authority independent of the Roman pontiff.
The leader of the Coptic Church (since 2013, Ibrahim Isaac Sidrek) holds the title of Patriarch of Alexandria, which was one of the four “Apostolic Sees,” so named from their association with Jesus’ followers instrumental in establishing them. The other communities to enjoy this honor are Rome (intimately connected with Sts. Peter and Paul), Antioch (St. Peter) and Jerusalem (Sts. Peter and James). Other early communities laying claim to the apostolic honor are Ephesus, Athens and Constantinople, from their associations with Sts. John, Paul and Andrew.
The See of Alexandria is considered second in importance only to Rome, and the Coptic Catholic community represents the largest number of Christians in the Middle East. Pope Francis’ appointing the patriarch to a Vatican position is a significant gesture, and should be seen as an important act of support for individuals who presently suffer considerable hardship.