Egyptian Christians are coming to terms with the loss of Pope Shenouda, who died this week at the age of 89. He was head of Egypt’s Coptic Church for over forty years.
The Egyptian press has largely praised his charismatic leadership of Egypt’s ten million Copts. His death comes at a tense time in Egypt as it appears that the country’s national identity is becoming more closely bound to Islam. Muslim-dominated parties are poised to take control of the government. While the previous leader, Hosni Mubarak, made attempts to protect Egypt’s Christian minority, Christians are feeling increasingly vulnerable amid attacks on churches by hard-line Islamists.
Death of a Statesman
Pope Shenouda is recognised internationally as a statesman who struggled, often unsuccessfully, to protect the Christian minority in the majority Muslim nation. Many are quoting his famous saying ‘Egypt is not a country in which we live, but rather Egypt lives in us’.
Egypt has lost a great symbol of national unity. He has been a big barrier against internal extremism and external intervention.
Egypt’s Al Jumhuriyah (an Egyptian News Agency)
According to the Egyptian Bible Society, Pope Shenouda was a great advocate for the Bible, promoting it as the ‘foundation’ and ‘focal point’ for Christians. His fostering of the Bible in the Coptic Church was a factor in the growth of Bible work in Egypt.
Egypt’s Christians consider themselves the true Egyptians, as Christianity preceded Islam in Egypt by 600 years. Christianity went to Egypt with Mark, the writer of the Gospel, and Egypt’s Christians look to Mark as the founder of the Coptic Church. Most Copts live in Egypt, but many thousands live in North America (over 200 parishes) and in other Arab countries.
Baba (Arabic for Father, or Pope) Shenouda, as he was known, was born into a Christian family in Assuit in Upper Egypt in 1923. He was called to the ministry as a young man when he read a Bible verse in the window of the Bible Society in downtown Cairo. He loved the Bible and is reported to have memorised most of it.
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