Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was in Egypt last week to launch a new province of the Anglican Church in North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
He led worshipers in prayers, inspected charities, and met with the Coptic Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria during the visit.
Welby, a modest but articulate and precise man, spoke firmly of the need for fairness and justice to prevail across the world, especially in North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
He called for a negotiated settlement of the disagreements over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Palestinian-Israeli struggle and an end to all forms of discrimination by followers of one religion against another.
He also met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo.
Welby arrived in Egypt last Thursday after attending a Vatican conference in Rome where he also had a meeting with the Grand Imam among other spiritual leaders. His visit to Egypt is part of a larger tour that also includes Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
During his visit to Cairo, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision to inaugurate a new province of the Anglican Church with Alexandria as its seat to cover 10 countries in North Africa and the Horn of Africa was not only designed to serve the faithful of the Anglican Church in these countries.
Most Christians in these 10 countries, which include Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, are not devotees of the Anglican Church.
But Welby said the inauguration of the new province was not necessarily about having many Church followers in that part of the world, but rather “a vision to show the love of Jesus” by reaching out. helping out those in need of support.
The visit and the inauguration of the new province come against a backdrop of a decline in the number of Christians in this part of the world, often due to emigration. Welby said he was aware of this “sad” and “deeply disturbing” fact, which he said was often a function of “persecution and oppression”.
He expressed his particular concern regarding the situation of Christians in Syria and Iraq.
He hopes that the presence of more clergymen in countries in the region will provide âmuch more local encouragementâ to those who may need it.
The need to support believers was a matter of concern that the head of the Anglican Church shared with his counterparts in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, not only in Egypt and other countries on his itinerary, but also in Vatican. .
He joined over 70 spiritual leaders “who represent over 70% of the world’s population” and a group of international scientists to call on world leaders meeting in Glasgow, UK in November for the COP26 Climate Change Conference to act. to reduce global warming that has devastating effects on agriculture and health, among others.
Participants in the Vatican meeting, led by Roman Catholic Pope Francis alongside Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, called on leaders gathered in Glasgow to take action. âClimate change is a serious threat,â he said. âWe advocate for common but differentiated climate action at all levels. “
Speaking to the weekly at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Zamalek, Welby said a bishop attending the meeting from the Global South told him that for the citizens of the North, the issue of climate change was a cause for concern. concern for generations to come, but for those in the South it was already a very pressing concern.
“He told me that for you it’s something for your children or grandchildren [to worry about], but for us, today it is a question of life and death â, he underlined.
QUICK ACTION: This gentle but vocal-mannered clergyman could not be clearer about the need for world leaders to act now to tackle the problem of climate change, which if not sufficiently addressed , will increase the levels of hunger in the world, he said.
These had started to decline in recent years before increasing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. âSpiritual leaders need to be clear on how [wrong] it’s up to people to go hungry, âWelby said.
Hunger, he added, is perhaps more of a problem for the countries of the South than for the North, but it is also a matter of concern for the peoples of the North. He said that today in the UK nearly one million children face food security challenges.
Spiritual leaders, he said, must âcontinue to harassâ world leaders to act quickly on this and other issues. They need to make sure that their voices are heard and that their contributions to solving these issues are clear.
âI have to pray and say that I am ready to do something,â he stressed.
According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, dealing with issues such as global warming, development, education and hunger is clearly within the mandate of religious institutions.
He complemented the work that some churches in Egypt are doing to equip people to earn a living. “[One] can distribute food, but human dignity is best served if people earn their own meals, âhe said.
During this time, he recognized the need for spiritual leaders to take into account the declining influence of religious institutions among the younger generations, whose views on faith may be skeptical. This situation, he suggested, is due to insufficient contact between religious institutions and young people in a modern way.
“We must act as Jesus told us to act: to love one another the same way that I [Jesus] loved you, âWelby said.
He said that âa church that does not set an example, a church that is obsessed with hierarchy,â is a church that is sure to meet the expectations of its faithful, especially young people who seek a faith that “Defiant and amazing” and not “boring and pompous”.
“It’s a very big challenge,” he admitted.
Another challenge facing spiritual leaders and religious institutions around the world today, Welby said, is dealing with suffering caused by multiple reasons, including political oppression.
He said he was convinced that the joint work of all who believe in the good, including spiritual leaders, was essential to address the reasons for suffering, including “bad governance”, whereby the best interests of the people are compromised in favor of that of the tyrannical rulers.
âDemocracy reflects the dignity of human beingsâ¦ God created people with inherent dignity,â he said. “Rich or poorâ¦ billionaire or beggar in the street”, everyone is brought to equality thanks to the democratic voting process in which everyone has the right to vote.
Welby said this equality should include all people regardless of faith. This, he added, should be the main objective of the dialogue between leaders of different faiths.
âWe have to accept that people are differentâ¦ but [at the same time] people are mixed up, âhe said. There has to be a mutual compromise, as followers of each religion end up interacting every day.
For spiritual leaders to encourage such mutual acceptance, Welby said, they âmust avoid the tea-and-cake dialogueâ that does not lead to a serious conversation about the harmonious coexistence of followers of often divergent faiths.
The dialogue, he said, should be “about how well we can disagree”.
The current failure of mutual acceptance could be summed up at best in the hatred which is emerging in certain European countries against the migratory waves which push tens of thousands of people from the south to move towards the north of the Mediterranean region.
Welby stresses unequivocally the humanitarian responsibility to care for “foreigners and exiles”. However, he adds that at the same time “we also need to take care of host communities”, especially since many immigrants may find themselves in poorer areas where resources are already overexploited.
For the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, it all comes down to the power to love the other and to want to act on that love, as Christ preached. It is about “the need for a vision to show love”.
* A print version of this article appears in the October 14, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly