Tribute paid to Egypt’s Pope Shenouda

By John Newton
THE UK head of a Catholic charity has described the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church who died last weekend as “an eminent Christian leader who led his flock through tumult and turmoil”.
Aid to the Church in Need’s Neville Kyrke-Smith joined Pope Benedict XVI and others in paying tribute to the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, who died on Saturday 17th March.
Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “In this time of change and trial in Egypt a figure such as Pope Shenouda will be hard to replace.
“The country’s Christian communities have been destabilised by recent events and the prayer and support of Christians around the world will be essential at this time.
“We will be praying for the Coptic Orthodox Church and for the repose of the soul of this eminent Christian leader who led his flock through tumult and turmoil.”
His words follow a message by Pope Benedict XVI to the Coptic Orthodox Church expressing his “most sincere brotherly compassion”.
The Pope said: “I recall with gratitude his commitment to Christian unity, including his memorable visit to my predecessor Pope Paul VI and their signing of the Joint Declaration of Faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God together in Rome, on 10th May 1973, as well as his Cairo meeting with Pope John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, on 24th February 2000.”
The Pontiff added: “The Catholic Church shares the grief that afflicts the Copts and stands in fervent prayer asking that He, who is the Resurrection and the Life, might welcome his faithful servant.”
Pope Shenouda III was born Nasir Gajed on 3rd August 1923 in the southern Egyptian town of Assiut.
At the age of 31 he entered the monastery of the Virgin Mary in Scetes, where he remained until 1962, when Pope Cyril VI ordained him as Bishop of Ecclesiastical Education and appointed him Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary.
After the death of Cyril VI in 1971 Shenouda was chosen to be his successor as Patriarch of Alexandria.
A committed ecumenist, he also opened the International Commission for Inter-Orthodox Theological Dialogue’s first conference in 1989.
In April 1994 he oversaw the reception of the British Orthodox Church into the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.
The British Orthodox Church was set up as a Syrian Orthodox mission to the British Isles in 1866, but it became estranged from its mother church in the early years of the twentieth century.
Pope Shenouda led the Coptic Church for more than 40 years, amid growing sectarian tensions in the country including increasing attacks on churches by Islamists.
Tens of thousands of Christians packed into St Mark’s Cathedral on Sunday 18th March to pay their respects the pope’s body.
His body will be buried at St Bishoy Monastery in northern Egypt’s Wadi Al-Natroun region, in accordance with the late pope’s wishes.
There are about ten million members of the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide, of which eight million are in Egypt, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

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For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.