On his first trip to the U.S. as the head of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak paid a pastoral visit to his Brooklyn flock at Resurrection Coptic Church in Park Slope Sept. 28
“I follow the tradition of my predecessor, visiting our folk in the diaspora,” the patriarch said. His aim was “to confirm, to empower people here in their new context,” of living in the U.S.
He was elected patriarch by the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Coptic Church and confirmed by Pope Benedict in January, 2013, following the resignation of Patriarch Antonios Naguib, who stepped down due to ailing health.
Patriarch Sidrak said he wanted to encourage his people to take the best of the Egyptian Coptic culture and the best of their new culture. He encourages them to avoid segregating into separate communities but rather integrate themselves into the larger community while at the same time remembering their roots.
This is a well-established tradition in his native land, according to the patriarch. The people in Egypt do not separate themselves into religious or cultural neighborhoods; instead, they all live together.
This unity in diversity, the patriarch said, is one of the main reasons he believes Egypt has been able to escape the turmoil of violence promulgated by Islamic extremists in the Middle East and northern Africa.
Of course, the patriarch said Egypt has faced its share of religious and political persecution when the Islamic Brotherhood gained control.
He said that a gross overuse of power led to the 2011 revolution when the people overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Mohamed Morsi, who was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, came to power through the ensuing elections.
However, he said, the people did not want to be governed by Islamic law. Many in the country want to be free to practice Islam, but they do not want Shariah as their political structure.
The patriarch said the Egyptian people’s thirst for freedom led them to overthrow Morsi in July of 2013 and elect Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in June. He was elected with a 97 percent majority in a contest that was questioned by the international community.
Patriarch Sidrak believes that Sisi is the right president for the country. He praised the president for meeting with religious leaders and for affirming that Christians in Egypt are fully Egyptians.
“We feel free in our land,” he said, adding that this was not so when the Islamic Brotherhood had control.
The patriarch said Sisi is open to listening to his people and the international community. The patriarch commended the president for recently appearing at the U.N., during which he addressed the General Assembly and met with President Barack Obama.
Overall, the patriarch said he is hopeful. Although things are not yet stable and violence continues, he believes things are getting better.
“Egypt is going out of this dark tunnel,” he said. “It needs time. We are trying.”
The patriarch also feels the country is moving in a good direction because religious leaders are able to work together. During the Mass of his elevation, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros broke tradition and attended to support the new Catholic patriarch.
Patriarch Sidrak said that in order for the country to move ahead, all Christians in Egypt have to work together with the Muslim majority. It is also important that Christians are not forced to flee the land of their ancestors.
Christians in Egypt make up about 10 percent of the population, and Coptic Catholics, who are fully aligned with the Vatican, make up about 1 percent of the total population.
Patriarch Sidrak does have a couple of requests from the American people.
The first is for people to be aware of not just the situation in Egypt but all around the world. He said he feels that many Americans only pay attention to international politics when there is a major problem.
“America is considered the leader in the world, by us at least,” he said. “The dream of our young people is to come to America.” Therefore, the American people have power to influence world politics.
“I have a good feeling about American people,” he said. “They often want to help.”
However, he said, American media tend to sensationalize events.
Patriarch Sidrak said American political leaders do not always share the same values as the people they lead, which can be seen in international affairs and military intervention.
Therefore, he asks all Americans to be more aware of world politics. In this way, they could put more pressure on their political leaders and be more active in their democratic process.
However, he said, there is something more important that Americans can do for the Egyptian people.
“It is important to have a spiritual relationship, through prayer,” he said. “We are united in prayer.”
Prayer is necessary for the success of important efforts, such as the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in the Vatican, which the Coptic Catholic Patriarch will attend.