For the first time in the two-thousand-year presence of the Apostolic Throne of the Alexandrian Church, the country of Ivory Coast was visited by His Beatitude Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch, Venerable Shepherd and Father of all the Orthodox Christians throughout Africa. Frantic preparations were made for the distinguished visitor. Everyone was in anticipation of his visit, from the senior government officials of this hospitable country to the simple faithful people, who saw and heard the Shepherd’s voice.
An unprecedented welcome to this historic visit, This Monday, November 5, 2018, will be unforgettable for the local Church. The distance and the difficulties in traveling did not prevent the faithful from setting off from far–off regions of the country to take the Patriarch’s blessing.
On the first day of the Venerable Shepherd’s stay, one could see the obvious joy in the people’s eyes. Amidst them they had the Father, who, from the red carpet laid out for his reception, continued to walk where the people’s daily routine and real life was with all its needs and difficulties.
Who will be left untouched by the picture of the next day, the 6th of November, when at the Cathedral of the Lord’s Resurrection, in the capital city of the state of Abidjan, there was a real Paschal atmosphere with the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, the pious clergy ministering to this field of God, offering their best spiritual services, unselfishly and sacrificially, along with their loyal volunteer associates, to their faithful flock?
The Patriarch of Love marveled at the faith of these people, who participated in the Bloodless Sacrifice, and who so beautifully and angelically rendered the hymns of praise, by taking down to earth the heavens with the Angels. This celebration continued with the young men and women and the Women’s Association, who, dressed in traditional costumes in their country’s colors, danced and sang, presenting their own cultural values.
Perhaps words are too poor to express what one sees being accomplished, first in the souls of these people who learn about the true God of Love, Peace and Freedom, and then in all the necessary infrastructure projects, which are meant for young people’s education through school reconstruction and for the relief of human pain through the erection of medical centers and healthcare clinics.
In this work, of course, one could not possibly overlook the contribution of some great Mission friends and supporters, such as the Coyo family of Silvestro and Flora, whom we thank wholeheartedly for the donation of a plot of land, where a church, a school, a medical center and a healthcare clinic will be built in order to meet some spiritual as well as social needs of the Metropolis. Another major supporter is the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, which has always stood by our side, funding the great projects of Mission in Africa and around the world. We are grateful to them as well.
The greatest emotion was felt by all when the Mission Patriarch kneeled and laid the Foundation Stone for the erection of the new Mission Center in the city of Akorre’, which will include a Church, a School and a Medical Clinic. In such a God-pleasing project, the Patriarch, as the First among the Missionaries, and the capable partners who assist him, realize his great vision which becomes true, first with the projects for the spiritual growth of these people’s souls, and then with the material infrastructure projects, so that there will be no one left unaware of Christ, no one left hungry, naked, sick, or homeless. And as His Beatitude pointed out to his children, the Gospel of Christ is realized in this place and does not only stay in words. And for love to be true, it requires sacrifices and deprivations.
It is noteworthy that during the visit of His Beatitude to the Presidential Palace of the country, the Venerable Shepherd received a very warm welcome from the President-in-Office of the Republic, where there was a very fruitful discussion on Mission issues and the presence of the Patriarchate in this beautiful country and the assurance on the part of the vice president that the state would always be a helper in all the activities of the Orthodox Church, which is highly appreciated by everyone in that country, from the simple people up to the high ranking political officials, for the work that has been done so far. Among the country’s politicians who visited His Beatitude were the Ministers for the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Environment, the Secretaries-General of the Presidency and other Ministries, as well as the Ambassadors of Lebanon, Russia, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the Papal Nuncio and Coptic Priests.
The moment of departure finally arrived. The joy of this great visit to Ivory Coast will be engraved in the history of this place. The President-in-Office of the Republic, himself, accompanied His Beatitude to the airport.
The whole body of clergymen bid farewell and saw off the Shepherd and Father, drawing power from this presence, mainly by taking his blessing for the continuation of the missionary work. And the Patriarch of Love, Prayer, Peace, Reconciliation, Sacrifice, who knows better than anyone what Mission means, blessed this country and the work done in the name of the Lord.
This visit and the words of his love will remain engraved in the hearts of those people who saw him, heard him and received his blessing, as they know that along with the foundation stone, their Shepherd also laid his own heart on this beautiful country of Ivory Coast.
† Bishop Narcissus of Accra