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Before his patriarchal appointment, Amba Cyril had presided over a Coptic Catholic synod, which introduced a number of Latin practices, including an abbreviated Divine Liturgy, akin to the Tridentine low Mass, and devotions such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Stations of the Cross.

These Latinizations sparked controversy among the tiny community, which then numbered some 5,000 people (as opposed to the Coptic Orthodox, who included more than a million people). In 1908, the Holy See asked the patriarch to resign and the Coptic Catholic patriarchal office remained vacant until the appointment of Amba Marcos Khuzam as patriarch in 1947.

Modern church. The Coptic Catholic Church grew considerably after Vatican II, ironically at the expense of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Much of this growth may be attributed to the Catholic (Copt and Latin) administration of schools (more than 100 parishes sponsor primary and secondary schools), orphanages, clinics and medical dispensaries in some of the poorest and remotest villages of the Nile Valley, which remains the center of Coptic Catholic life.

Vatican II’s call for the Eastern Catholic churches to restore their faith and traditions, reinforced by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 apostolic letter, “Orientale Lumen,” has made some impact on the Coptic Catholic Church. Some of the Latinizations of 1898 have been reversed: Icon screens have been restored, the Divine Liturgy has been renewed and the administration of sacraments according to Coptic rites has been revived. But there are no Coptic Catholic monasteries as found in the Coptic Orthodox monastic tradition, which is largely responsible for the Coptic Orthodox renaissance. There are, however, four Coptic Catholic religious communities modeled on Latin Catholic orders.

While the number of Coptic Orthodox entering the Coptic Catholic Church has declined, ecumenical relations between the two are frosty. But as Egypt’s Islamic radicals step up their attacks on all Copts — forcing many to emigrate — their commonalities may banish what has divided them.

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Michael La Civita is the executive editor of ONE magazine.

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Tags: Coptic Catholic Church