Pope Shenouda III
Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Egyptian Coptic Church since 1971 and a president of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1991 to 1998, died of natural causes on March 17, at the age of 89 and 41 years after his enthronement as the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria.
As Pope of Alexandria, Shenouda was a successor to Saint Mark the Evangelist who, according to tradition, brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to the great Mediterranean city in the first century AD.
His funeral will be on March 21, at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, where his body has been sitting in state on a large wooden throne.
Tributes have come in from around the world, with Pope Benedict XVI offering prayers and US President Barack Obama praising Pope Shenouda as an “advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue.”
Shenouda ruled for 41 years amid great political turmoil. A supporter of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, he was an outspoken advocate for Christians in a predominantly Muslim nation.
“His ecumenical contributions are remarkable,” the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, said in a statement. “He was a prophetic leader who understood the historic impact of the Coptic Church for centuries and what the church is called upon to do now to make a difference in the existential situation in Egypt and in the entire world.”
World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit paid tribute to Pope Shenouda’s unwavering pursuit of Christian unity and peace throughout the Middle East and the world.
“As a leader he taught us that modesty is the best way to serve Christ,” wrote Tveit, noting that Shenouda is remembered as “a strong believer in Christian-Muslim conviviality and cooperation. His initiatives in the field of inter-religious dialogue contributed to the unity of the Egyptian people.”
Tveit concluded his tribute with this prayer, “May Pope Shenouda’s words, witness and memory strengthen the faith of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East; and, may his soul rest in the peace of the Kingdom of God.”
Shenouda worked as a journalist before becoming a monk. In the 1980s, he spent more than three years in exile in the desert monastery of St Bishoy, after then-President Anwar Sadat stripped him of his powers for criticising violence against Copts by Islamic extremists. Copts make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population.
Mubarak freed Shenouda in 1985 in time to lead Christmas Mass before a crowd of thousands in St Mark’s Cathedral.
The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney and its Affiliated Regions accepted with profound regret and sadness the departure of its blessed and righteous leader.
Prayers were held and condolences received by clergy and members of all the committees, associations and boards of the diocese on March 19.
His Holiness served for over 40 years as the Pope of the church; in that time he had profound affect on the lives of those within and outside the church.
The Very Rev. Fr Tadros Simon, Vicar General of the Diocese, said, “He will be remembered as the charismatic spiritual leader of this era, ‘Athanasius of the 21st century’.”
Anglicans around the world were saddened to hear of the death of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, said Pope Shenouda was a man of great holiness whose life was spent in the service of his people, even to the point of house arrest. While giving personal attention to all of the congregations of his church throughout the world, he also made time for weekly teaching from the Bible for the faithful in Cairo.
“He was deeply committed to ecumenical movement and worked for the reconciliation of long-standing theological divisions. The Anglican Communion sends condolences to Copts everywhere, and we hold the people of Egypt in our prayers at this time.”
The Anglican Diocese of Egypt said that together with all Egyptians, the Episcopal/Anglican Church of Egypt mourned the loss of Pope Shenouda III.
“Pope Shenouda was a great example of a Bishop who is committed to teaching his people regularly. Every Wednesday for the last 41 years he met with his people (between 5,000 and 6,000 each week) to answer their questions and teach from the Bible. He wrote many books, which were translated into several languages.
“Pope Shenouda had a great missionary vision. He consecrated two missionary bishops in Africa and he planted churches and monasteries in all of the continents of the world. He gave special care to all of the Copts in the diaspora.
“Pope Shenouda had a warm heart for ministry to the poor. He had a special meeting with them every Thursday, where he supported them through funds, counselling and prayer.
“During the time of Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox church has grown tremendously. He gave special attention to theological education, opening several new seminaries. He also cared for the youth of his church and consecrated two bishops mainly for ministry to youth.
“He was well known for defending the rights of Christians and, because of this, he was put under house arrest by President Anwar Sadat. He was released after the death of Sadat. In spite of this he continued to love Egypt and often said, ‘Egypt is not the country in which we live but the country which lives in our hearts.’”
As Egypt presently goes through many political changes, it is not easy for Egyptian Christians to lose Pope Shenouda, the father of the church in Egypt, at this time of uncertainty about the future.
The Most Rev. Dr Mouneer Anis said, “I was not surprised to see hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Cairo yesterday, immediately after the announcement of the passing away of the beloved Pope, who was such an important symbol for the nation.
“Our relationship to the Coptic Orthodox Church is the strongest among the different denominations in Egypt. Several times 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.
“Pope Shenouda was a continuous encouragement to me personally and to our church. He always sent representatives to our events and celebrations. At our nomination he received an honorary doctoral degree at a great celebration from Nashotah House in Wisconsin, USA.
“Pope Shenouda will be greatly missed, but he will always be remembered as a great leader, teacher, partner and bishop.
“In our churches we have prayed for the Coptic Orthodox Church and we have thanked God for Pope Shenouda, his life and his ministry in the assurance that he now celebrates eternal life with his Lord Christ. During his life he often told audiences ‘rabbina mawguud’, God is present in our midst.
“He now experiences this to the fullest possible extent.”
Pope Shenouda will be buried in his monastery of St Bishoy.