The Catholic University of America and the Coptic Orthodox Church deepened their relationship on Nov. 5, with the conferral of an honorary degree and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the University and St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Theological School (ACTS) in Los Angeles.
University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick called the day’s events a “historic moment,” referring to both the long history of Catholic University in offering study of ancient languages, literatures, early Christian theology, and Eastern Christian theology, as well as the growing closeness of the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Church over the past 50 years.
“Today, here in the National Shrine next to our campus, we are renewing the relationship between our two institutions of learning and deepening the bonds of understanding, theological collaboration, and formation of future generations,” he said before giving an honorary degree to Metropolitan Serapion, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Los Angeles and Metropolitan of Southern California and Hawaii.
Metropolitan Serapion has been instrumental in expanding ACTS, which now will have a formal relationship with the University for doctoral-level studies and other collaborative initiatives going forward.
Metropolitan Serapion received the degree in part for “his leadership, his vision for ensuring clergy and laity have access to the best resources so they may be deeply formed in the faith, and his commitment to strengthening the bonds between our Churches,” said Dr. Kilpatrick.
Metropolitan Serapion has participated in the formal dialogue between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches for many years. This included accompanying Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church to the Vatican in 2013 to meet with Pope Francis. That was the first official visit by a Pope of Alexandria to the Vatican since 1973, when Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda signed a Common Declaration.
Metropolitan Serapion spoke during the ceremony, which was held in the Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, about the importance of ecumenical outreach with the Catholic Church and with Orthodox Churches. More than 250 Orthodox Coptic bishops, clergy, and laity attended.
At a luncheon following the ceremony, he spoke about meeting in person Rev. Mark Morozwich, S.E.O.D., dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies; Provost Aaron Dominguez; and President Kilpatrick. He said, “I told myself, we are at home,” noting that Catholic University is “at the heart of the Church.”
His expression echoed the words of Fr. Morozowich who told those gathered, “I want you to feel this is your university. You are at home. You are with your brothers and sisters of Christ.”
The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its roots to St. Mark the Evangelist, who according to tradition, was martyred in Alexandria, Egypt in 63 A.D. The Coptic monks who lived in the desert are considered the first models for the Christian monastic tradition.
Catholic University offers graduate-level training in Ancient Near East and Christian Near East studies; has a Center for the Study of Early Christianity; an Institute for Christian Oriental Research, which includes a Semitics library; and has an Institute for the Study of Eastern Christianity.