Coptic Church head calls for unity

A message of Christian unity was delivered at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Wellington yesterday afternoon by the visiting leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, spoke at the cathedral after an ecumenical liturgical welcome.

The 79-year-old leader of one of the world's oldest churches told the hundreds gathered to unite as Christians.

"We have so many Churches . . . but really our Lord wanted to have only one Church. For this reason we do our best to work towards Christian unity."

Pope Shenouda III, based in Alexandria, Egypt, is the 117th in a chain of popes spanning 19 centuries. He is a leading figure in the move to reunify Orthodox Christianity.

He flew into New Zealand from Melbourne on Tuesday and arrived in Wellington yesterday.

He met ministers of the Crown before the service and left for Dunedin last night.

Father John Craddock, who attended the service, said the Coptic Church was the Christian Church in North Africa and Egypt which had survived the "inroads" of the Islamic faith.

"They are determined to survive under increasing political difficulties."

He said the Coptic faith was followed by about 10 per cent of Egypt's population. There are about 1000 followers of the faith in New Zealand.

Wellingtonian Marilyn Pryor said the service was a powerful experience.

"To . . . hear the pope and Cardinal Tom (Williams) virtually use the same language to call for Christian unity, it's so powerful."