Coptic Christians Mourn Death of Pope Shenouda III

By Tracy Gordon 3-19-2012
Egyptian Christian Copts wait in the queue at St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian Christians are mourning the death of Pope Shenouda III, the longtime leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died on Saturday (March 17) at the age of 88.

His funeral will be on Wednesday (March 21) at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, where his body has been sitting in state on a large wooden throne.

Tributes have come in from around the world, with Pope Benedict XVI offering prayers and President Obama praising Pope Shenouda as an "advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue."

Shenouda, the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria, ruled for 41 years amid great political turmoil. A supporter of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, he was an outspoken advocate for Christians in a predominantly Muslim nation.

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, "taught us that modesty is the best way to serve Christ" and hailed him as a "strong believer" in Christian-Muslim coexistence.

Shenouda spent more than three years in exile in the desert monastery of St. Bishoy, after then-President Anwar Sadat stripped him of his powers for criticizing violence against Copts by Islamic extremists. Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population.

Mubarak freed Shenouda in 1985. More recently, Shenouda presided over a period of danger for his flock as Copts were targeted by militant Islamic groups following Mubarak's downfall a year ago.

Shenouda will be buried at St. Bishoy. Egypt's ruling military council said a military transport plane will take Shenouda's body from Cairo to St. Bishoy after the funeral, the English-language Ahram Online reported.

Coptic leaders say there is no timetable to pick Shenouda's successor.

Tracy Gordon writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.

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