Pope Shenouda

March 18, 2012 by staff 

Pope Shenouda, Pope Shenouda III, the leader of Coptic Christians in Egypt, has died aged 88. Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has died aged 88 after 40 years spent leading Egypt’s Christian minority during a time of increasing tensions with Muslims.

Tens of thousands of Christians packed into the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo on Saturday evening hoping to see his body. Women in black wept and screamed. Some, unable to get into the overcrowded building, massed outside, raising their hands in prayer.

His death comes as the country’s estimated 10 million Christians are feeling more vulnerable than ever amid the rise of Islamic movements to political power after the toppling a year ago of President Hosni Mubarak. The months since have seen a string of attacks on the community, heightened anti-Christian rhetoric by ultra-conservatives known as Salafis and fears that coming goverments will try to impose strict versions of Islamic law.

“He left us in a very hard time. Look at the country and what’s happening now,” said Mahrous Munis, a Christian IT worker in his 30s who was among the crowds. “Copts are in a worse situation than before. God be with us.”

An archbishop announced to the crowd that the funeral would be held in three days’ and in the meantime Shenouda’s body would be put on display in the cathedral, sitting in the Mar Morqos or St Mark throne from which the pope in his elaborate regalia traditionally oversaw services.

Shenouda died in his residence at the cathedral, and the state news agency Mena said he had been battling liver and lung problems for several years. Yasser Ghobrial, a physician who treated Shenouda at a Cairo hospital in 2007, said he had prostate cancer that spread to his colon and lungs.

Barack Obama paid tribute to Shenouda as “an advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue”.

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