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Coptics mourn death of Pope Shenouda

posted 17 Mar 2012, 15:53 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 Mar 2012, 15:54 ]

Coptic Christians gather to mourn the death of Pope Shenouda, saying it is a tragedy for all Egyptians.

Thousands of coptic christians mourned the death of Egyptian Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III, on Saturday (March 17).
Shenouda, the 88-year old patriarch of most of Egypt's estimated 12 million Christians, died from old age, his political adviser told Reuters.

Bells tolled in Cairo's Abbasiya district, site of Egypt's main Coptic cathedral, as the news spread.

Thousands of mourners struggled through the slightly open gates of the cathedral, cramming their way inside where thousands more stood in prayer.

Shenouda became the 117th Pope of Alexandria in November 1971, and was popular among Egypt's Christians and Muslims alike during his four decades in power.

"It's a very difficult situation for all Egyptians," said emotional mourner Erian Badiea, who spoke to Reuters after paying his respects to the late pope.

"Just a moment ago, a Muslim friend called me to pay his respects and told me that they were just as shocked as we are. I would like to say that, Muslims included, we all love each other and this was what he used to speak of," he said referring to Shenouda.

"When he spoke, he didn't only speak of and for Christians but for all the Egyptian people and it wasn't just talk, this is what he planted and harvested. All Egyptians are mourning his death, it's a very difficult situation."

"All I can say is that it is a tragedy," said mourner Raafat Naim.

"It is a huge tragedy to us Christians and to Muslims and for all Egyptians. We hoped this day wouldn't come and especially for Pope Shenouda. Pope Shenouda has had a major impact on all our souls. He is a titan in literature, intellect and politics," he added.

Shenouda's successor will play a central role in forging the church's position in the country after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak last year. Islamist parties have since swept parliamentary elections and will dominate the debate over drawing up the country's new constitution.

Shenouda had recently returned from abroad where he had been seeking medical treatment.

Shenouda's criticism of the government's handling of an Islamic insurgency in the 1970s, in which Christians were targets, and his rejection of Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel landed him in trouble with then-president Anwar Sadat.

Sadat banished him to the Wadi el Natrun monastery north west of Cairo and stripped him of his temporal powers.

Under more than a quarter century of Mubarak's rule, relations between the government and the Coptic church were generally smooth, with the Pope portrayed in state media as a symbol of religious harmony, despite occasional outbreaks of sectarian violence.