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Copt pope mourned worldwide

 

CAIRO (SE): Three people died in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, when the crowd stampeded in the overcrowded church while mourning the death of Pope Shenouda III, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died at the age of 88 on March 17.

The Coptic pope will be buried in the monastery of St. Bishov, Wadi Natrum, in the Nile Delta, where he spent time in exile after being banished by the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, over his opposition to the Camp David Accord with Israel.

He also asked the Copts not to visit Israel until all Church properties had been restored to their rightful owners.

Described as a rock in the Coptic Church in Egypt for the 10 million minority religious group, he was seen as a guardian of a small Christian body in the midst of a Muslim majority population.

Pope Shenouda was rehabilitated by now-disgraced president, Hosni Mubarak, when he came to power, and returned to Cairo to live. Known as a man who worked behind the scenes, he continually counselled calm and sought to quell the anger of Christians in the face of oppression.

However, in a way he was indebted to Mubarak and was seen as a supporter of his regime, in return for which the Copts received some protection from the now-deposed president.

Young Copts became frustrated with him during the Arab Spring uprising in February this year, when he declared his support for the regime of Mubarak and called on young people engaged in the occupation of Tahrir Square to go home, a counsel that was widely ignored.

Instead, Pope Shenouda called on them to gather in the churches and pray.

Young people commented at the time that the policy of support for Mubarak in return for protection for Christians was backfiring, as they were being seen as a sect first and Egyptian citizens second.

Pope Shenouda was elected to his role on 14 November 1971. He is remembered for his contribution to ecumenism, persistently promoting dialogue among all Christian denominations and pushing for greater understanding.

He was a great peace advocate and preached the necessity of forgiveness and the settling of disputes through dialogue.

Born Nazeer Gayed Roufail on 3 August 1923, he was given the name Antonios el-Syriani (Anthony the Syrian) when he entered religious life in 1954.

He was suspended by his predecessor, Pope Cyril VI, in 1966 for advocating popular ordinations, a custom he introduced as pope.

Messages of condolence have been received from Pope Benedict XVI and leaders worldwide. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood also expressed its solidarity with the Copt people of the land.

 

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