Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, 1923-2012
Vatican City — Praising the ecumenical commitment of the late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Pope Benedict XVI offered his condolences to Orthodox Christians in Egypt on the death of their patriarch.
Pope Shenouda, who served as patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 41 years, died March 17 at the age of 88.
In a message released at the Vatican the next day, Pope Benedict said he wanted to express his condolences and "brotherly compassion" to the bishops, priests and faithful of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which includes about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 82 million people.
The vast majority of Christians in Egypt belong to Pope Shenouda's church and his four decades as patriarch often involved standing up for the rights of the country's Christian minority and working with the Muslim majority to promote human rights and the common good.
"The Catholic Church as a whole shares the grief that afflicts the Orthodox Copts," Pope Benedict said, and Catholics pray that "the God of all mercy may receive Pope Shenouda in his joy, his peace and light."
Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai, who traveled from Lebanon to Egypt March 17 as part of a pastoral visit to Egypt's 4,000 Maronite Catholics, had been scheduled to meet with Pope Shenouda at 4 p.m. that day.
"We were told in the morning that the meeting would not be possible because the pope's health had deteriorated badly," Archbishop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate in Lebanon, told CNS by email March 18.
The patriarch had advanced the date of his visit to Egypt, Archbishop Sayah said, "because we knew of the state of (Pope Shenouda's) health."
Egyptian Christian Copts mourn the death of Pope Shenuda III
Thousands of Copts crush into cathedral after pope's death The bells tolled on Saturday as tearful Christians crushed past the Cairo cathedral's gate hours...
The bells tolled on Saturday as tearful Christians crushed past the Cairo cathedral's gate hours after Pope Shenuda III's death, to get a glimpse of the man they called "father" in an uncertain time for the Egyptian minority.
Within an hour of the announcement of his death, traffic was jammed for kilometres leading to the St Mark's Cathedral, where the spiritual leader of the region's largest Christian minority was based.
The Copts, increasingly tight-knit in the face of assertive Islamists, displayed the crosses many have had tattooed on their wrists to get inside the church grounds and to the steps of Shenuda's offices, where they were told the pope's body lay waiting for the funeral. "We love you, Father," they chanted, hoping for a final glimpse of the pontiff who led their community since 1971. "The pope is wise, he was the father every young man, woman, widows and the orphaned," said Emil Essam, 28, his eyes red from sobbing. "We have had many crises, and he gave us wisdom throughout all of them. He prayed for us throughout our oppression," he said, turning his back to Shenuda's offices to face east to pray. The men and women chanted a mournful hymn in the ancient Coptic language and Arabic. "They're saying: 'God please save us, oh Jesus," said Isaac Zakaria, an 18-year-old university student. "He was like my father. He was wise, and very open-minded. There will be no one like him in the future," he said.
Outside, policemen stood guard with sniffer dogs to detect explosives, a reminder of the dangers faced by the ever more beleaguered Christians in the Muslim majority country. Shenuda had come under unprecedented criticism by his flock after a suicide bombing killed more than 20 churchgoers in January 2011, weeks before a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
He risked some of his credibility by supporting the increasingly unpopular dictator, and with his calls to turn the other cheek despite increasing sectarian attacks.
Years earlier, the pope had been placed under house arrest by Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat, who Shenuda denounced for courting Islamists.
But Mubarak, the Coptic Church believed, acted as a bulwark against the fundamentalists who questioned the Christians' equality in Egypt.
Misgivings about Shenuda's positions were overshadowed by a series of deadly blows against the Christians after the uprising that overthrew Mubarak.
Those attacks culminated in a bloody clash in October with soldiers that left at least 20 Coptic protesters dead. They had been protesting against an earlier attack on a church in southern Egypt.
On Saturday, the mourners said Shenuda had helped unite the country. "He was a patriot, first and foremost," said Osama Gamal.
Dubai: At midnight on Christmas Eve in 1985, the atmosphere in St Marks Cathedral in central Cairo was electric. The huge concrete cathedral housed a vast congregation of over 6,000 Copts who were desperate to see their leader, Pope Shenouda III who had been released from more than three years of internal exile just a few days earlier.
The Copts are a tight-knit Christian community who make up around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population. Pope Shenouda had quarrelled bitterly with the previous President, Anwar Sadat, over what he saw as an inadequate response by the government to growing Islamic radicals, and over the Camp David accord with Israel, which the Pope described as treachery.
Sadat had taken the bizarre step of deposing the Pope and forcing him into internal exile in the remote Coptic monastery of Deir Bishoy, in the desert of Wadi Natrun between Cairo and Alexandria. On January 2, 1985, the new president, Hosni Mubarak, reversed his predecessor’s decree, and Pope Shenouda came back to Cairo to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. The Coptic church had never accepted the president’s decree, and if Pope Shenouda had mounted his pulpit that January night to call on his people to seek revenge for the insult to him as pope and to their church, millions of Copts would have taken to the streets to burn and loot government offices and Muslim sites.
I was a foreign correspondent in Cairo at the time, so went to see what would happen. I went to the cathedral in north Cairo’s Abbasiya district, and joined the dense throng. It was only when we entered that I realised that the congregation was split with women on the left and men on the right, and that I was in the wrong area.
As I paused in some confusion, a sidesman took pity on me since I was clearly not a regular attendant, and ushered me forward. I was not able to slip into a back seat but had to march up the centre of the cathedral to the reserved seats at the front. A few rows in front, I saw several dignitaries like the Governor of Cairo (a Muslim attending out of communal duty), and Boutros Boutros-Ghali (head of one of the leading secular families of the Coptic community).
After a long wait, complete silence reigned. Then the vast doors were opened and a long procession started down the nave of the cathedral. As the pope came into view, the entire crowd erupted. All the men were cheering and shouting, and the women were giving their ear-piercing ululations.
The intense feelings of the repressed Copts were let loose as they welcomed their 117th Pope back to Cairo and into his cathedral. The congregation surged forward, and the pope’s procession was only able to keep going as very strong monks linked arms and forced their way through. Once they got to the front, the Pope took his place and the service started.
Pope Shenouda went to the pulpit and gave his much-awaited sermon. He spoke of how the Copts are part of one Egyptian nation, and was explicit about maintaining good relations with the Muslims. He said, “All Copts open their hearts to their brothers, the Muslims. We feel they are our flesh and our blood in this beloved nation.”
Preventing violence, rioting
His insistence on peace within Egypt was a vital factor in calming Coptic fury, and had a powerful effect on the hotheads who wanted to seek revenge. At the time, the present Islamisation of Egyptian politics was far into the future, but specific mosques or government offices could have been targeted, leading to widespread communal rioting and violence on an unprecedented scale.
The ability of Pope Shenouda to look past Sadat’s insult to him and his office was an important instance of his ecumenical and outward-looking attitude on many other matters, which helped keep Egypt calm for many decades.
Shenouda was viewed as a spiritual, social and sometimes political leader who guarded the rights of Egypt's minority Christian population.
CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptian Christians converged on a landmark cathedral here Sunday to bid farewell to Coptic Pope Shenouda III, a protector and father figure to an ancient minority now struggling for a place in the new, Islamist-dominated Egypt.
Whether tearful or defiant, Copts said they worried that the loss of 88-year-old Shenouda, who died Saturday after a long illness, leaves space for extremists to widen a devastating sectarian campaign that's persisted for years but worsened since the revolt that unseated President Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
Shenouda, who led the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than 40 years, was looked upon as a spiritual, social and sometimes political leader who guarded the rights of Egypt's minority Christian population in a region prone to religious animosities.
The pope's death comes at an extremely sensitive time, as the ruling Mubarak-era generals and Islamist-led Parliament chart Egypt's future through a new constitution, revised legislation and presidential elections in May.
Without Shenouda's influential voice, many Copts fear that they will lose a platform for their longstanding grievances, including bureaucratic obstacles to church-building, violent anti-Christian attacks and the exclusion of Copts from senior political or security posts.
"Every Copt is asking the other, 'What are we going to do now? How are we going to survive? Are they going to cleanse us from this country because this wise man is no longer here?' " said Ihab Aziz, president of the Coptic American Friendship Association, who left his home in Washington and returned to Egypt a year ago to fight for the inclusion of Coptic rights in the revolutionary agenda.
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of around 82 million, have long complained of discrimination and oppression in a country where Sunni Muslims make up the absolute majority.
"I've always looked up to Pope Shenouda like my godfather. I could disagree with my biological father but not with the late pope," said Nabil Kamal, a 46-year-old engineer from Cairo. "His opinions about religion and various aspects of life were like sacred orders to me and many Copts. It was not just because he was our pope, but rather because he made sense and was convincing in pretty much everything he said or did."
Dressed in black and carrying portraits of the late patriarch, mourners filled several city blocks around St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo. Riot police formed human cordons to control the masses standing shoulder to shoulder at the entrance of the church, waiting to pay their final respects to the pope, whose body was seated inside on an ornate throne. Lamentations of "Oh, father! Oh, father!" rose from the crowd.
Tragedy struck during the sorrowful day. Three mourners suffocated to death in the crowded church, said Church official Anba Younnes.
Shenouda, seated on the throne of St. Mark, or Mar Morkos, was clad in the elaborate regalia he traditionally wore to oversee services. His head slightly tilting to the right, he held a scepter. He is to be buried Tuesday.
Egyptian authorities announced a period of public mourning and were keen to show that the nation's military and Muslim leaders were in solidarity with Christians.
The grief expressed in state-run and private media appeared to surpass the coverage given when Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, grand sheik of the Islamic world's top Sunni Muslim institution, Al Azhar, passed away in 2010.
Church officials announced Sunday that Bishop Pachomious would take over the papal duties until a new pope is chosen in two months.
The body of Pope Shenouda III is displayed for public viewing inside the Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo on Sunday Photograph by: Esam Al-Fetori, Reuters , Reuters
Christians paid final respects on Sunday to Pope Shenouda III, who spent the last months of his four decades at the head of Egypt's Orthodox Church trying to soothe sectarian tensions that have escalated since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Ten of thousands lined up at the cathedral where Shenouda's body was initially laid in a coffin and later seated on a ceremonial throne wearing gold and red embroidered religious vestments, a golden mitre on his head and holding a gold-topped staff.
The lines blocked traffic in central Cairo and some women and elderly fainted in the heat. The cathedral opened and closed its doors several times in an attempt to contain the crowds.
Two people were killed in the crowding, medical sources said. One suffered a heart attack and the other, an elderly citizen, died of exhaustion.
Mubarak, who suppressed Islamists, was ousted last year. Since then Shenouda, who died on Saturday aged 88, often called for harmony and regularly met Muslim and other leaders.
Christians, who comprise about a 10th of Egypt's 80 million people, have long complained of discrimination and in the past year stepped up protests, which included calls for new rules that would make it as easy to build a church as a mosque.
Christians have accused hardline Islamists of attacking churches and said the authorities have failed to step in to protect them, although experts say some recent incidents have been fuelled by local grudges as well as sectarian tensions.
Shenouda had served as the 117th Pope of Alexandria since November 1971, leading the Orthodox community who make up most of Egypt's Christians. His funeral will be held on Tuesday, Egyptian state media reported.
Interim military rulers paid tribute to the church, visiting the grounds of the Orthodox Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi who Mubarak handed power to promised to airlift Shenouda's body to where he will be buried.
U.S. President Barack Obama offered his condolences and Pope Benedict, leader of the world's Roman Catholics, offered prayers after being informed of his death.
"I would like to express to the members of the Holy Synod, to the priests and to the faithful of the Patriarchy, my strongest feelings of fraternal compassion," said Pope Benedict.
Describing Shenouda as a longtime advocate of unity among Christians, he said the Catholic Church "shares the pain afflicting Orthodox Copts."
Shenouda was popular among many of Egypt's Christians even outside the Orthodox Church, as well as among many Muslims.
Archbishops stand next to the body of Pope Shenouda III, seated on the throne of Mar Morqos, or St. Mark, as mourners gather for the viewing of the patriarch at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday.
Hamza Hendawi Associated Press
CAIRO—Tens of thousands of Coptic Christians lined up outside a cathedral in the Egyptian capital on Sunday to pay their final respects to the spiritual leader of their ancient church, whose body was seated inside on an ornate throne.
The grief of the faithful filing past Pope Shenouda, who died Saturday at 88, may also reflect the uncertainty felt by the country’s Christian minority following the recent rise of Islamists to power. In his death, Egypt’s 10 million Christians have lost a seasoned protector at a bad time.
“He has been our protector since the day I was born,” said a tearful Antonios Lateef as he waited in line to take one last look at the Pope, who spent 40 years at the helm of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Amid the throngs, three mourners died of suffocation inside Cairo’s main Abbasiya cathedral, where Shenouda’s body will be on display until his burial Tuesday.
Shenouda, seated on the throne of St. Mark, or Mar Morkos, was clad in the elaborate regalia he traditionally wore to oversee services and held a sceptre.
Soldiers backed by armoured personnel carriers deployed outside the cathedral, possibly as a deterrent to attacks by militant Muslims.
It could take months before a successor to Shenouda is found, according to Fuad Girgis, a member of the Church’s local layman council, known as el-Maglis el-Melly.
“Pope Shenouda assumed the throne of St. Mark eight months after the death of his predecessor,” he noted.
During his 40 years as patriarch, Shenouda strove to ensure his place among the main players in this mainly Muslim nation, pressing demands behind the scenes while keeping Christians’ anger over violence and discrimination in check. Christians’ worries have deepened recently with the rise of Islamic movements to political power in parliamentary elections.
Coptic community mourns the passing of charismatic leader Abu Dhabi to hold memorial services for Pope Shenouda By Nathalie Farah, Staff Reporter Published: 00:00 March 19, 2012
Members of the Egyption Christian community meet Father Issac Anba Bishoy for condolences at St Antony Cathedral For Coptic Orthodox in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi: Members of the Coptic Christian community in the capital have experienced a myriad of emotions since the official news of their patriarch's death Saturday night.
Having led his faithful community for more than 40 years, Pope Shenouda passed away at the age of 88 after battling liver and lung problems for several years, according to official reports in Egypt.
"The news is very saddening for all Coptic Christians. Pope Shenouda III was a great leader of our church, always seeking to foster peace and understanding wherever he went," said Father Issac Al Anba Bishoy, Pastor at the Cathedral of Saint Antony for Coptic Orthodox in Abu Dhabi.
"He always stressed that there were three ways people could attain peace in all aspects of their lives: peace with God, peace with others and peace with one's enemies," he added.
The cathedral held a memorial service yesterday and a condolence gathering in the evening. A formal set of memorial services and condolence meetings is scheduled for this week after the pastor and members of the church council return from the pope's funeral tomorrow.
"It was such a shock when his death was announced… in addition to our memorial service, we also received condolences from our community, the Egyptian embassy and representatives of other embassies and governmental officials," Ashaia Haroun, 66, a business consultant and church council member. "We will hold formal memorial services and receive condolences on Wednesday afternoon and the whole of Thursday and Friday for those who wish to pay their respects," he added.
According to Father Al Anba Bishoy, Pope Shenouda succeeded his mentor, Pope Kirlos to become the 117th Pope who was chosen to lead the minority Christian community on February 14, 1971. Prior to being chosen, the pope, whose birth name was Nazeer Gayed, received a Bachelors of Art degree in English, was a writer and poet, and a reserve officer in the army before joining a monastery in his late 20s.
‘Loved his country'
"Pope Shenouda was not only a learned and cultured leader, but he also loved his country very much and always strove to find a balance for all to live harmoniously with each other," the pastor said.
"But he was also known for his firm stance on many issues, some of which didn't endear him to our presidents, such as Anwar Sadat, who was upset when the pope said that he wouldn't allow any Coptic Christians to visit [occupied] Jerusalem until it became free because Sadat had requested that the pope be diplomatic towards Israel," he added.
The pope visited Abu Dhabi twice, the first time in 1994 and then in 2007 to inaugurate the St Anthony Cathedral.
"I was fortunate enough to be here for both his visits… they were both very special experiences… for his second visit, he gave a powerful sermon that moved us all…he will truly be missed," said Safaa Samuel, 48, an employee in the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce.
Overcrowding at Coptic pope's viewing leads to 3 deaths, dozens of injuries
From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN March 19, 2012 -- Updated 0448 GMT (1248 HKT)
A woman faints as crowds converge on Saint Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbassiya district, March 18, 2012.
Cairo (CNN) -- Overcrowding inside a cathedral where Coptic Christians had gathered to pay last respects to their pope caused a stampede that left three people dead and more than 50 injured, a health official said. Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who led the Coptic community for more than four decades, died Saturday. He was 88. On Sunday, thousands of Christians paid their respects to him at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo where his body went on display in an elaborate golden crown and red and golden robes. The mass of people inside the cathedral prompted the stampede, according to Deputy Health Minister Hisham Sheeha, who said three were killed and 52 injured, most suffering from lack of oxygen and low blood pressure.
Shenouda's funeral will be held early this week and is expected to bring millions of Christians onto the streets of Egypt at a time when tensions with the Muslim majority are high.
Egypt's Christian minority has been the target of a number of high-profile attacks in the past several years.
The bombing of a major church in Alexandria in January 2011 left at least 21 people dead, and at least 25 Coptic Christians and their supporters were killed in clashes with the army in October. That incident was the bloodiest in Egypt since its revolution in February.
Christians are a very small minority in Egypt, although the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian church in the Middle East, according the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Stevenage, England.
The U.S. State Department estimates that Egypt is roughly 9% Coptic Christian, but the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which released a report on the global Christian population last year, says it is probably closer to 5%.
Egypt did not release the number of Christians in its 2006 census, the think tank said.
The leader of the Coptic Christian community since 1971, Shenouda was in poor health off and on for many years. He traveled to the United States to undergo medical tests last year.
He died of renal failure "due to the diabetes he endured for years," said Sheif Doss, head of the Egyptian General Coptic Association. The pope had lung cancer, which spread to the rest of his body, Doss said.
"The funeral is expected to take place in two days, as massive preparations must take place first. It is a historical event and 2 million people are expected to attend the prayers. I don't expect violence though," Doss said.
Egypt's Supreme Council announced Sunday three days of mourning for the Coptic Christian community.
Shenouda will be buried Tuesday at Emba Bishoy monastery in Wadi Natroun, northwest of Egypt's capital, said Markus Askuf, spokesman for the Coptic Church. The area is home to some of the world's earliest Christian monasteries.
Shenouda, a journalist in his youth, was once sentenced to spend four years in Wadi Natroun by the late president Anwar Al-Sadat.
In addition to millions of followers in Egypt, the Coptic church has adherents in Europe, Canada, the United States, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife offered their condolences Saturday after news of Shenouda's death spread, saying he will be remembered 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 Obamas said.
When a Coptic pope dies, all 150 bishops of the church's Holy Council appoint an acting patriarch until a vote is conducted for a successor, Doss said. Thousands of bishops, priests and monks are eligible to vote.
The most senior bishop usually takes the role of acting patriarch. In this case, that would be Bishop Michael of Asiut. If he declines, Bishop Bakhamious of Behira is next in line, Doss said.
Pope Shenouda III. In 1981 he was banished to a desert monastery by the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA
Egyptian spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than 40 years
Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, who has died aged 88 after suffering from prostate cancer, was for four decades the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian community in the Middle East. In his native Egypt he was patriarch to 7 to 11 million Copts – the government of the predominantly Muslim country giving a lower estimate than the church's – and another 4 million worldwide.
Coptic congregants, worshipping in a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity, held "Baba Shenouda" in high regard. Yet his pontifical reign was marked by controversy. While inter-communal strife saw thousands of Copts leave Egypt, critics blamed him for politicising his office and exacerbating matters, either through over-assertiveness or timidity. Egypt's 2011 uprising threw such tensions into starker relief.
Ten years into his papacy, Shenouda had famously fallen out with President Anwar Sadat; in September 1981 he was summarily dethroned and banished to an ancient desert monastery. Reinstated by Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, in January 1985, the Coptic pope, 117th in a line of leaders that began with St Mark, achieved considerable successes. The ordination of deaconesses was resumed after an interval of several centuries, and he brought women into theological colleges and communal councils, though he was against them becoming priests.
Beyond his devotional authority, Shenouda also represented Coptic lay and political interests in Egypt and fostered ties with wealthier Coptic diasporas in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia. From 1965 and throughout his papacy he edited the Coptic journal El Keraza.
However, he was beset by problems in his final years. Once he had proclaimed: "A church without youth is a church without a future"; now young Copts resented the way he spoke on their behalf. Shenouda began sacking dissenters with alarming frequency and secularists said he encouraged a dangerous culture of church-centred isolationism.
Past troubles came back to haunt him, too. In 1976 he dismissed a rebellious deacon, Max Michel, who in 2005 was declared a bishop by an Orthodox organisation in Nebraska, and the following year crowned himself Archbishop Maximus I, head of a rival St Athanasius church. Michel claimed that God had deserted Shenouda's congregation and that more than a million Copts had become Muslims or evangelical Christians. While Michel attracted little support, he caused much rancour.
Also in 1976, Shenouda severed relations with a sister church in Ethiopia after the Marxist regime arrested and then executed the Orthodox patriarch.
Shenouda developed a personal respect for and close working relationship with Mubarak, to whose government he and his bishops had privileged access. Initially he discouraged Copts from taking part in the demonstrations that led to Mubarak's overthrow in February 2011. The year of revolution posed new questions of identity, security and political involvement for a section of society that had always felt discriminated against. Faced with January 2012's elections to a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and conservative Islamists, many Copts suppmore effective orted the liberal, secular Muslim-Christian Egyptian Bloc, which achieved fourth place. Others formed specifically Coptic parties, a development that Shenouda had resisted.
He was born Nazir Gayed, the youngest of eight children in Asyut, southern Egypt, moved to Cairo at 16 and served as a novice at St Anthony's church school. In 1947, he gained a BA in history from Cairo University, fought as an officer in the Arab-Israeli war the following year and then taught English in a high school. In 1949, he graduated from the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary. Four years later, he began teaching at the Monastic School in Helwan and became professor of Old Testament studies. All the while he dabbled in classics and archaeology; he wrote poetry and penned newspaper opinion pieces, many on Coptic history.
The name Copt, from the Greek for "Egyptian", now denotes indigenous Orthodox believers who make up 95% of Egyptian Christians. They maintain that the apostle Mark founded the Church of Alexandria around AD55. After an ecumenical ruling in 451, other Christians ostracised them for believing in the single nature of Christ – divine and human seen as one – a charge that Copts rejected. Arabs conquered Egypt two centuries later, although Copts remained a majority until the 12th century, when many converted to Islam. Shielded from Europe, Copts developed distinctive customs such as fasting, monasticism and the usage of liturgical Coptic, derived from the Pharaonic language of ancient Egypt.
Gayed entered the El Suryan (St Mary) monastery in Egypt's remote western desert in July 1954. From 1956 to 1962, he lived in a cave and experienced "complete freedom and clarification". His teacher was the charismatic Father Matta el-Meskin (Matthew the Poor), later to become an opponent. Sadat offered Matta the papacy in place of Shenouda in 1981. Recalled from the hermit's life, Gayed became dean of the Coptic Seminary and bishop for religious education with the saintly name of Shenouda. Within seven years, enrolment of part-time students had grown tenfold.
Shenouda was appointed personal secretary to the newly elected Pope Kyrillos VI in 1959, though briefly suspended in 1966 for radically demanding the popular election of bishops. When Kyrillos died in March 1971 he was named as a possible successor. Ritually chosen by a blindfolded boy drawing lots from among three candidates elected by church bodies, in November 1971 Gayed was enthroned as His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa.
More ebullient than his predecessor, Shenouda inspired the growth of churches outside Egypt – from seven in 1971 to more than 150 three decades later. The number of bishops in the Holy Synod increased from 20 to 83; four bishops were ordained in Britain, where 30,000 Egyptian Copts live.
But life beyond the cloisters proved more perilous. Having long opposed demands to impose Islamic sharia law on Egypt, he befriended Sadat, who had been Egypt's president from 1970, and endorsed his peace initiative with Israel. But Sadat later damned Shenouda as a secessionist after Christians fought Muslims in Cairo and expatriate Copts barracked Sadat during an American visit. In September 1981, Sadat arrested Shenouda along with 1,500 other "opposition figures" including journalists and unionists, Muslim Brothers and Coptic clerics. He replaced the pope with a panel of five bishops and banished him to Wadi Natrun. A month later, Sadat was assassinated.
Eventually Mubarak recalled Shenouda to the papal seat after intercession by visiting clerics, including Graham Leonard, then Anglican bishop of London. Vowing to be a turbulent priest no more, Shenouda told a welcoming party of 10,000 at St Mark's Cathedral: "We Christians and Muslims are like organs in one body, which is Egypt."
He often met Egypt's supreme Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, and championed Arab causes in international forums. He backed the Madrid conference of 1991 intended to further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and in 2000 became the first person to win Unesco's Mandanjeet Singh prize for tolerance. For 20 years, Shenouda's Ramadan breakfasts helped repair Muslim-Coptic rifts. In 2001 he proclaimed: "Love generates love and separation generates separation."
Shenouda visited Pope Paul VI in Rome in 1973 and signed a declaration of common faith. This marked the first meeting between Alexandrine and Roman pontiffs since 451. In 1989 he signed a similar concordat with his Orthodox brothers, and in 2000 he welcomed Pope John Paul II to Egypt. Shenouda also defended smaller, beleaguered Christian communities throughout the Middle East.
Yet his liberalism had its limits. He said Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism had "left one error to embrace another that is worse". Cairo's Al-Ahram newspaper chided his "politically motivated" 1979 edict forbidding Egyptian Christians from visiting co-religionists in Jerusalem. His comments on Jews often sailed close to crass antisemitism and he rebuffed calls to soften Coptic strictures on divorce.
With his voluminous beard, grand turban and ornate oriental crucifix, Shenouda's public persona could appear solemn. Then he would suddenly break into laughter, living up to his reputation as a great teller of jokes.
Like John Paul II, the Egyptian pope seemed too innovative to some, too conservative to others. Many disliked his mild response to allegations of forced conversions of Christian girls, and to recurrent sectarian violence. Extremists killed 10 in a church in 1997; 20 more were murdered after new year 2000.
He did criticise lenient sentences and often asked why so few Copts sat in parliament. Yet he seldom challenged the government, preferring to work behind the scenes, and upset Muslims and Copts by endorsing Mubarak's candidacy for re-election as president in 2005. The liberal Muslim analyst Ahmad al-Aswani blamed the pope for "beard-kissing and forgetting" instead of confronting an "open season on Copts".
Shenouda's hundred books and countless sermons untangled abstruse dogma in a straightforward way. His more than 30 foreign visits included the first by a Coptic pope to the US, in 1977.
In April 2008, overzealous Heathrow security officials frisked Shenouda while on his way to consecrating St George's Coptic Cathedral, Shephalbury Manor, Stevenage. Angry protests back in Egypt showed the respect he still commanded.
However, his health was failing, and in June 2008 he underwent surgery in Ohio. Internal Coptic disputes went public and Shenouda seemed to lose his celebrated grip over his community.
On 1 January last year, 23 people were killed outside a Coptic church in Alexandria. When Egypt's revolution began later that month, the sight of Christians chanting alongside Muslims in Tahrir Square, Qur'ans and crosses held aloft, momentarily dispelled fears of sectarian carnage. But order broke down after Mubarak's forced departure and 12 died as extremists attacked churches in Cairo's poor Imbaba district in May. When thousands of Copts took to the streets in October to protest against the state's recent demolition of an "unlicensed" church in Aswan, the resulting military crackdown left 27 people dead.
Shenouda hailed the victims as martyrs, "beloved children whose blood does not come cheap". Yet he faced defiance from the Maspero Youth Union, Copts who condemned the governing SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Allied Forces. There was therefore urgency in Shenouda's call for national unity at a Christmas service in St Mark's at the beginning of January this year: "For the first time the cathedral … is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree ... on the stability of this country, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt."
This month's visit by Muslim Brotherhood leaders to Shenouda echoed that sentiment, as did the Maspero Youth's slogan at cathedral prayers for the ailing pope: "Your people love you."
• Pope Shenouda III (Nazir Gayed), prelate, born 3 August 1923; died 17 March 2012
18/3/2012 Egyptian Christians gather to mourn the death of Pope Shenouda III, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, outside the Abassiya Cathedra in Cairo March 18, 2012. Christians gathered on Sunday to pay final respects to Pope Shenouda III, who sought to soothe sectarian tension in his four decades atop Egypt’s Orthodox Church but saw increasing flareups in the majority Muslim nation in the last months of his life.
Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenouda III attends an Easter service in the main cathedral in Cairo in this April 23, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/ Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Files
CAIRO - Egyptian Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of most of Egypt’s estimated 12 million Christians, died on Saturday from old age, his political adviser told Reuters.
Bells tolled in Cairo’s Abbasiya district, site of Egypt’s main Coptic cathedral, as the news spread.
Shenouda, 88, became the 117th Pope of Alexandria in November 1971, and was popular among Egypt’s Christians and Muslims alike during his four decades in power.
His successor will play a central role in forging the church’s position in the country after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak last year. Islamist parties have since swept parliamentary elections and will dominate the debate over drawing up the country’s new constitution.
“He died from complications in health and from old age,” adviser Hany Aziz said. Shenouda had recently returned from abroad where he had been seeking medical treatment.
Father Anglos Ishaq, head of the church on Egypt’s north coast, said a temporary replacement would be chosen to act as the head of the church until a new pope was selected.
“It is too early to know what will happen next, but what is known is that the oldest bishop in the Holy See will be chosen as charge d’affaires until a new pope gets chosen by elections from different church councils in the different provinces.”
He said the pope’s body was expected to remain in a coffin for three days, provided doctors gave their approval.
“All details about the burial and how long his body will remain for people to come and receive blessings will be decided by doctors,” Father Anglos said. “But surely people will get some time to see the body and receive blessings.”
CAIRO: Egypt’s Coptic Pope Shenuda III, spiritual leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, died on Saturday at the age of 88, state media and cathedral sources said.
He had suffered health problems for years and recently stopped receiving treatment for liver failure and tumours or swelling in his lungs because he was too feeble, the Coptic Church said.
“The last days were the hardest in the Pope’s life, as he was unable to walk,” said a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.
Shenuda was forced to cancel a weekly sermon last week over health concerns.
There was no immediate official word on when the funeral will be held for Shenuda, who was named pope of Alexandria in 1971, but there were unconfirmed reports it will be held on Tuesday.
There was also no word on when clergy and laity would convene to begin the process of choosing a successor.
Shenuda led the Copts, estimated at 10 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million, for the best part of a generation, in which Egypt was hit by a wave of Islamic militancy from which he sought to protect his people.
Shortly after the announcement of his death, thousands of Copts flocked to the Abassiya Cathedral in central Cairo to mourn their spiritual leader.
A crush of people tried to push their way in through a small door into the massive cathedral, as the church bells tolled.
Muslim leaders in the country almost immediately sent out condolences after news of his death broke.
Shenuda’s death is “a grave calamity that has afflicted all Egypt and its noble people, Muslims and Christians,” the country’s mufti, Ali Gomaa, said in a statement.
The Muslim’s Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, which controls parliament and the senate, sent condolences to the country’s Copts and described Shenuda as having played a big role in Egypt.
Shenuda was placed under house arrest by former president Anwar Sadat for his outspoken criticism of Sadat’s courting of Islamists.
But he was supportive of Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown by a popular uprising more than a year ago which led to an Islamist-dominated parliament — the first in the country’s history.
Shenuda, immediately recognisable by his long white beard, was believed to have viewed the widely despised Mubarak as a bulwark against Islamists, who believe non-Muslims should not be allowed to rule the country.
He was seen as a check on more radical Copts who urged more forceful reactions to sectarian attacks that have plagued their community, especially after Mubarak’s ouster.
He was criticised by his own flock after he blamed “infiltrators” for triggering clashes between Coptic protesters and the army last year in which more than 20 people died, most of them Christians.
Many said they wanted him to take a harsher stand against the military, which has been accused of failing to carry out genuine reforms.
Copts celebrated New Year and Christmas amid tight security, after deadly attacks two years in a row following services.
Shenuda leaves behind a nervous community, a target of frequent sectarian attacks in recent years, who complain of routine harassment and systematic discrimination and marginalisation.
Egypt has also seen increased tensions between Muslims and Christians over the past few months, sparked by neighbourhood quarrels and disputes over church building and rumours of forced conversions.
Copts have been particularly concerned since Islamist parties, including ultra-conservative Salafi groups, won almost three-quarters of the seats in the first parliamentary elections since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising.
Theologically, Shenuda was conservative, slamming a court decision calling on his church to allow divorce.
Shenuda’s community is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that are not in communion either with the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox churches because of a 5th century disagreement over the nature of Jesus.
However, the pope maintained a keen interest in promoting church unity.
He served as head of both the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, and founded churches in several African countries.
Belshazzar dared to defile the holy vessels, and with ignorance I defile my body, Your precious vessel! Let me enjoy the banquet of Your love, may Savior, so that I do not desire the banquets of the world!
Your hand was stretched to declare Your judgment of Belshazzar. Let Your fiery Spirit write the words of Your love in my heart, so that I may not desire any wise person in the world, but I may seek Daniel, Your prophet, and hear Your divine voice inside me!
Daniel despised all the gifts of the king and did not desire richness or authority, then You gave him grace in the eyes of Cyrus to support Your people in their captivity, When do I despise the temporal matters? When do I obtain You, the treasure of my soul and her inner glory?! Behold I am in Your hands, use me as You wish!
Fr. Tadros Malaty From the Inspiration of the Book of Daniel