Coptic Pope Tawadros II turned down an invitation by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit Ramallah, saying he would not set foot on Palestinian land or Jerusalem “as a visitor” without the company of Al-Azhar’s grand imam, the state-owned Middle East News Agency reported.
The pope is currently in Jerusalem to attend the funeral of Father Ibrahim, the bishop of Jerusalem, who passed away on Wednesday.
The controversial visit marks the first of its kind by a Coptic pope for decades.
Pope Tawadros II received a call from Abbas, in which he expressed condolences from the Palestinian people for the loss of the bishop of Jerusalem and extended an invitation for the pope to visit Ramallah, according to a statement by the church.
Many Copts have criticized Tawadros II’s visit, having been advised for years not to visit Jerusalem. In 1979, late Pope Shenouda III banned Copts from attending pilgrimages to Jerusalem until the end of Israel’s occupation of the city. Shenouda passed away in 2012 after leading the church for forty years and was succeeded by Tawadros II.
Church spokesperson Buwas Haleem said the pope would only be visiting for the funeral, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper. He reiterated this does not represent a shift in the church’s position vis-a-vis Israel.