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World pays tribute to Pope Shenouda

22 March 2012

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

Mourning: the body of Pope Shenouda III in state (above, left) observed by the faithful PA

Mourning: the body of Pope Shenouda III in state (above, left) observed by the faithful PA

MEMBERS of the ruling military council and cabinet ministers from Egypt, as well as Christian and Muslim representatives from around the world, attended the funeral on Tuesday of Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died last Saturday, aged 88.

The Cathedral of St Mark in Cairo was packed to overflowing, while tens of thousands thronged around the outside of the building. Many wept as they followed the service on a giant television screen. Pope Shenouda’s body was then flown in a military aircraft to St Bishoy Monastery in northern Egypt for burial.

A day of national mourning had been declared in honour of the man who had been the spiritual head of the Coptic community in Egypt and around the world since 1969. Pope Shenouda was respected for his dedication to the idea of reconcilia­tion with Muslims, and for standing up for the rights of the Christian min­ority in Egypt. During the presid­ency of Anwar Sadat, the Pope was forced to spend four years in internal exile, after criticising the authorities for their failure to protect Christians against Islamic extre­mist attacks.

Secular and religious leaders around the world paid tribute to Pope Shenouda. President Obama said that he would remember the Coptic Pope as “a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation. His commitment to Egypt’s national unity is also a testament to what can be accom­plished when people of all religions and creeds work together.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that his death was a source of “great sorrow to the Christian com­munities not only of Egypt, but of many nations. His Holiness has been an exemplary and outstanding Chris­tian leader both within Egypt and far beyond its boundaries.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Roman Catholic Church’s sharing the pain felt by Copts at the death of their spiritual leader.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, Bishop Angaelos, said that Pope Shenouda would be “remem­bered by his Church as a dedicated servant of God and of the people, a man who faithfully endured through conflict, opposition, and persecution”. The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Stevenage is holding a memorial service at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, who is the co-chairman of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commis­sion, remembered Pope Shenouda as “always warmly welcoming and generous, and yet clearly concerned to speak and defend Christian truth, from a life rooted in his own mon­astic commitment of prayer. Even in the frailty of his later years, he was a remarkable Christian leader of outstanding gifts, for whom we give God thanks and praise.”

The President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mou­neer Anis, paid tribute to Pope Shenouda’s friendship with the Anglican community: “He men­tioned to me how much he appre­ciated the fact that he started his career as a teacher of English in our Anglican School in Cairo. He was a continuous encouragement to me personally and to our Church.”

The secretary general of the An­glican Communion Office, Canon Kenneth Kearon, recalled how the late Pope was “deeply committed to ecu­menical movement, and worked for the reconciliation of long-stand­ing theological divisions”. The General Secretary of World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said that Pope Shenouda would be remembered as “a strong believer in Christian-Muslim conviviality and co-operation”.

A statement from the RC Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales spoke of Pope Shenouda’s interna­tional influence. It said that the Coptic Orthodox Church had seen “a remarkable re­vival and growth both in Egypt and throughout many countries in the world, including England and Wales. He courageously defended the rights of Coptic Christians and worked tirelessly for peace and justice. In this, his loss will be felt not only by his own Church but by Christians inter­nationally.”

The chief executive of Christian Solidarity, Mervyn Thomas, said his prayer was “that over the coming days the Coptic Orthodox Church will be led by the Holy Spirit as they seek to appoint a successor to this very wise and godly man”.


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