CONGREGATION FOR THE ORIENTAL CHURCHES
THE SPIRITUAL TESTAMENT
January 20, 2009
"I have searched with all my strength to love and to serve every one without any distinction of Bishops, priests, religious and faithful". This is the affirmation found in the Testament of the late Patriarch Emeritus of Alexandrian Coptic, His Beatitude Stéphanos II Ghattas. He passed away on January 20, 2009, in Cairo, at the age of 89. In his testament, the Cardinal shows his profound faith: “I thank God for all the graces with which He has filled me during my long life and for providing me the joyous gift to be born in a Christian Catholic family, upright and devoted to God... I am ready to leave this world and its possessions in order to encounter my Lord and my God, imploring Him forgiveness for any sort of transgressions or sins; with faith in His compassion and in His infinite kindness.“
The funeral was held on January 23 at St. Mary Virgin of Medinet Nasr Cathedral (Cairo). On that occasion, the telegram from Pope Benedict XVI, addressed to His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, the current Patriarch of Alexandrian Copts, was read during the ceremony. The Holy Father raised his prayers to the Risen Christ that "He may receive in His joy and peace this faithful servant of the Church who earlier as a missionary in the Congregation of the Mission and later as Bishop of Luxor and finally as Patriarch dedicated himself with zeal and simplicity to the service of the People of God in the spirit of dialogue and cohabitation with all".
The celebration was presided by His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, in the presence of His Beatitude Nasrallah Sfeir, Patriarch of the Antiochian Maronites, who was the Representative of Pope Benedict XVI. The Congregation for the Eastern Churches was represented by the Under-Secretary, Msgr. Krzysztof Nitkiewicz, and Officials Msgr. Arnaud Bérard and Msgr. Khaled Bishay. This delegation transmitted the message of His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, and which was given at the closure of the Service.
Thousands of people participated at the funeral liturgy and demonstrated their affection for the Patriarch Emeritus, who had distinguished himself by his paternal love towards his flock. What was particularly touching was the procession with the corpse of the diseased; carried on the shoulders of the priests three times around the altar, recalling his priestly service, and three times in the nave of the Cathedral to symbolize his service as a pastor. At the end of the Liturgy, the body was buried in the Crypt of the Cathedral.
Numerous political leaders also participated in the Rite. The ecclesiastical leaders who attended the ceremony included an ecumenical representation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Catholic and the Orthodox Armenian Churches, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Episcopal Church of Egypt and of the Horn of Africa. The Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, His Holiness Shenouda III, paid his homage to the diseased in person, the evening prior to the funeral at the Cathedral.
Such great participation of the Coptic Catholic faithful and the priests certainly confirmed their devotion to the figure of the Patriarch, and they showed the vitality of this small Eastern Church, consisting only of 250.000 persons. During the Patriarchal ministry of Cardinal Stéphanos II Ghattas, he created the new Eparchie of Guizeh, thus increasing the number of the Coptic Catholic circumscriptions to seven.
Life of His Beatitude Stéphanos II Ghattas, C.M.
His Beatitude Stéphanos II (Andraos) Ghattas, C.M., was born on January 16, 1920, at Cheikh-Zein-el-Dine, near Tahta, in that Eparchy of Luxor. Following his studies at Saint Leo the Great Seminary, and afterwards with the Jesuit Priests, he acquired a Licentiate in Philosophy and Theology from the Pontifical Urban College of the Propagation of Faith. He was ordained to priesthood on March 25, 1944, in Rome.
After his return to his homeland, he taught at the Seminary of Tahta. He entered the Novitiate of the Congregation of the Missions (Lazarists) in Paris on October 2, 1952, and professed temporary vows on October 17, 1954, and perpetual vows on October 17, 1957.
He was assigned to Beirut where he undertook various offices, including that of Director of the Seminary of the Lazarist Priests. In 1960 he was transferred to Alexandria, Egypt, and in 1966 he was nominated as the Superior of that Religious House.
On March 8, 1967, the Coptic Synod elected him Bishop of Luxor, and his episcopal ordination was held on June 9, 1967. As Bishop, he showed his capacity as a true and zealous pastor who rendered special attention to resolve the problems of the priests and of the faithful.
He was next designated as the Secretary of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchal Synod, with the responsibility to oversee the problems of the entire Patriarchate. On February 24, 1984, the Holy Father, considering the age and the health of His Beatitude Stéphanos I Sidaroussa, Patriarch of the Alexandrian Coptic, nominated Msgr. Ghattas, Apostolic Administrator of the Patriarchate "sede plena".
The Patriarchal See became vacant on April 18, 1986 with the resignation of Cardinal Sidarouss. Msgr. Ghattas was nominated by the Holy Father as the Apostolic Administrator of the Patriarchate "sede vacante". He convoked the Patriarchal Synod on June 9, 1986 and the Coptic Catholic Bishops assembled at the Patriarchal residence of Pont-de-Koubbeh canonicaly elected Msgr. Andraos Ghattas. The Bishop, as a sign of his respect to the predecessor assumed the name Stéphanos. On June 23, 1986, the new Patriarch received from Pope John Paul II the "communio ecclesiastica".
In June, 1997, the Patriarch guided the "ad limina" visit of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt. Before the Holy Father he reaffirmed the fidelity and devotion of the Catholic Church in Egypt towards the successor of Peter, "the messenger of universal peace and fraternal dialogue".
During the historic pilgrimage of John Paul II to Mount Sinai from February 24 to 26, 2000, he welcomed the Holy Father and accompanied him on those "golden and silent foot prints"which proclaim the memory of Moses. The Patriarch led the Pilgrimage of the Jubilee Year, and which culminated in the Divine Liturgy in the Alexandrian Coptic Rite, on August 14, 2000, at St. Mary Major Basilica. On August 18, he accompanied the pilgrims of the Alexandrian Coptic Patriarchate to Castel Gandolfo, so as to express to the Holy Father their affection and common "grazie giubiliare", and with grateful memory of his visit during the previous February.
His Beatitude Ghattas, besides being the Head of the Synod of the Coptic Catholic Church, was the President of the Catholic Hierarchical Assembly of Egypt. Pope John Paul II nominated him to the College if Cardinals on February 21, 2001. The Bishops’ Synod of the Coptic Catholic Church, assembled from March 27 to 30, 2006, accepted his resignation from the Patriarchal office, and which was presented due to the reasons of age and health.