Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Copts, dies
Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, Shenouda III has died at age 88. According to official media, hesuffered from liver failure and lung cancer. Because of his illness severaltimes he had received treatment abroad. The last week he had cancelled his catechesis on Wednesdays. Assoon as the news spread, thousands of the faithful went to St. Mark's Cathedral to pray for the deceased. Muslim leaders also expressed their condolences. In a statement, Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt, said that his death "is a major disaster that affects the whole of Egypt and its noble people, Christians and Muslims." The Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, currently in power in parliament, spoke of Shenouda III's "big role" in Egypt.
"Baba Shenouda," as he was called, led one of the ancient Eastern Churches for 40 years. He was born August 3, 1923 in Asyut in Upper Egypt andbecame monk in 1954. On the death of Patriarch Cyril, in 1971, he waschosen as the patriarch of the Copts. He had chosen the name Shenouda at his episcopal ordination in 1961, aftera fourth-century saint.
The Patriarch led the Church, the largest in the Middle East (approximately 6-10% of Egypt's population of about 80 million people) over a period of greatchanges and tensions with the Islamic world. On the one hand, he drove to a deepeningof faith through study, catechesis, through the books he authored, opening upto the ecumenical movement, relations with the Pope of Rome and strengtheningties with the Copts abroad. During his years monastic vocations increased inEgypt and Coptic communities grew in the U.S., Australia, Canada.
His relationship with those in power saw periods of tension. He collided with Anwar Sadat for his overtures toward Israel and his appeasement of radicalMuslims. In 1981 Sadat put him under house arrest in the monastery in Wadi Natrun, north of Cairo. Sadat was assassinated a few months later, and the power shifted to Hosni Mubarak who freed the patriarch in 1985.
Shenouda's attitude towards Mubarak was a cause of controversy. He deeply criticized him for not stopping theviolence perpetrated by Muslim extremists against the Christian communities, but he also defending him in the first period of Tahrir Square movement, which led to his downfall.
This position made him the target of criticism from many young Copts, who wanted a greater commitment to democracy and greater guarantees of freedom for Christians.
But Shenouda had always played the card of the Egyptian nationality of whichboth Christian and Muslim are part and had always tried to mend every division, even with the army, by emphasizing that the Copts were in Egypt longbefore Islam arrived.