The Pope left the city of His Holiness’ papal see to visit us here in the U.S.A., and you would think that gesture alone would be understood as speaking volumes about his love for us, yet in spite of that, I have heard and read countless times that the Pope is not doing enough to reach out to us in our own language. People, some without restraint, have been outspoken about their disappointment, and some have unfortunately expressed themselves to a point that may be deemed as disrespectful. Look at some of the comments left (usually anonymously) on CopticWorld.org under various posts related to His Holiness’ visit:
[From a priest’s wife]: “His Holiness gave many beautiful and spiritual sermons; would it be possible for them to be translated either on screen or within the video into English? Thank you pray for us.”
[Anonymous]: “Why do we have to translate….we need someone to speak our language.”
[Anonymous]: “I wish he knew English like his predecessor. He may be pope for 20 years. He should consider learning english. Sad how none of this is suggested to him.”
[Anonymous]: “It is a great blessing to receive His Holiness Pope Tawadros II to the United States. It is, however, somewhat disappointing that all sermons, liturgies, and songs have been almost completely in Arabic. Most of my middle and high school Sunday school classes are Egyptians but were either born or raised primarily in the USA. Although they will, of course, follow the Liturgy, very little effort seems to have been made for translation, unless it is after the fact. This is in fact a tour of the Coptic Churches in the United States where thousands of English speaking Coptic youth are feeling the separation from their churches due to the language. Most of the Orthodox parishioners are seeking citizenship within the United States and will see their children and grandchildren born here. How are we to keep them within the church when the leader himself does not arrange to either speak English or provide direct translation services. Compare this with the recent visit by Pope Francis of the Catholic church who has minimal grasp of the English language but understood that his visit to the United States must include translation. Although his English is a bit broken he certainly attempted with great dignity to converse in the language of this great nation in order to include his American followers.”
ROMAN CATHOLIC POPE
As the previous comment shows, people often compare the Coptic pope with the Catholic pope, especially since both visited the U.S. so close in time to each other, so here is a little information regarding the Catholic see and languages.
Pope Francis speaks fluent Italian, as well as Spanish and German, and barely any English, although he can read it out loud to some degree. Previous recent popes of the Catholic Church were much better at speaking more languages, but ask yourself what matters more: the language they speak or the way they represent Christ in their actions and life? Pope Francis is hardly criticized for his language deficiencies (compared to previous popes) but is lauded for his character and presence. For more, see this great article: “Pope Francis and English as a Second (or Third) Language”; and here’s another article: “Catholic Linguistics”
For those who may say that Pope Francis spoke more English than Pope Tawadros II during his visit to the U.S., I say this: when Pope Francis spoke English, he was speaking on U.S. national television to an immediate audience of only-English speakers; I guarantee you that if His Holiness Pope Tawadros II were afforded that same opportunity, he would have done the same! But Pope Tawadros was received by mostly Egyptian congregants, most (or many) of whom spoke Arabic; so to say that he needs to speak in the language of the people he came to see, he did! Then you’ll say, but what about the youth! Read on:
CAUTION IN CRITICIZING POPE TAWADROS II
I strongly caution against criticizing the Pope when it can be avoided. What happened to Christianity meaning that we bear with one another and make excuses for one another (cf. Rom. 15:1)? Why are we acting like the media where nothing is off limits and we publicly criticize without restraint? Look at what the early Christian bishop, martyr, and friend of the apostles, Ignatius of Antioch, says about honoring your pope, your archbishop, speaking of him as if you are speaking of Christ (note: the following is about those who criticized bishops on account of their youth, but this is still applicable to those who criticize a bishop on account of his language):
Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honor of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not [honor him] so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. And all such conduct has reference not to man, but to God, who knows all secrets. (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 4).
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO? NOTHING?
Look, the Catholic Church has been global for a lot longer than the Copts, who have only in the last 50 years really expanded globally to a point where we really need to reach out to people in the languages they are becoming accustomed to.
It’s not that feeling this way is wrong, but exposing those feelings in a manner that effectuates change rather than simply lodging criticism is what best suits the situation. Let us not criticize the pope, or the clergy, and especially not the Coptic Church, because YOU are the church. YOU need to take action, YOU need to see how to fix this.
Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle!
Yes, it would be WONDERFUL if this instant a special committee was created by the Pope to establish a new means of outreach, to provide regular translation and also interpretation services (translation = writing; interpretation = spoken). Maybe the recently instituted Coptic Media Center will be a part of that overall strategy. The Pope has been trying to reach out to the youth and meet them where they are, culturally and linguistically, as we see on feasts the papal messages are provided with translation in several languages. Many of the sermons delivered by the pope were provided on CopticWorld through posts written in English, summarizing what he said. The Coptic Youth Channel regularly translates sermons by the pope (and others) into English. It’s not like this isn’t on anyone’s mind. Instead of complaining, lots of people are just trying to find a solution, whether in a minor way or on a grand scale.
But even if it does not happen as quickly as we would like it, coming from the top down (clergy down to lay people), we can do something from the bottom up (lay people and hopefully up to the clergy). For example, when the pope visited our church, we had someone live-translate from Arabic to English on large projection screens. In California there was a priest who interpreted an entire question and answer youth session (where thousands of youth are said to have been in attendance) into English, although you could tell most of the youth understood Arabic well enough to laugh at all the jokes before they were repeated in English. If you are aware of something that is beautiful and should be translated, do it yourself (if capable) or have someone do it and share it with the youth at your church, and post it online (and maybe send it to CopticWorld.org and/or CYC, etc.). If someone visits your parish who will give a sermon in only Arabic, prepare for it with an interpreter or live-translate on the screen. (I would say that you should do the same if the sermon is only in English, offering an interpretation for the Arabic speakers among you, because the key is to make things accessible for all and not neglect the few.)
There’s many things we can do to make up for the shortcomings we see, while at the same time waiting for improvements to come down from the top. It reminds me of the way I see deaconship. It needs much improvement, but I don’t care if the whole Coptic world is doing something the wrong way, I’m not waiting for improvement. Instead, I tell those in my parish to do it differently if that is the right way it should happen. I am not able to solve the entire Coptic Church’s deaconship woes from the top down, but maybe enough people from our church will grow up and carry the message to others to make an impact. Maybe even one of the youth grows up and becomes a monk, then a bishop, and then leads the entire Church in revitalizing true deaconship.
In any case, please refrain from criticism, but cover up what you see as shortcomings and instead work on achieving a solution. It’s good that you are aware of a problem; it is best when you take action to fix it instead of simply telling others that it is broken.