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Pope Remembers Coptic Patriarch

In Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher 18 March, a priest lights a candle in front of a picture of Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Egypt. Pope Shenouda, who served as patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 41 years, died 17 March at the age of 88. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)  

“Amid the wave of attacks on the Coptic Christians recently, he took a strong stand and yet kept the doors for dialogue open. He succeeded in keeping his links with the authorities while holding together his own people. He showed both wisdom and moderation while not appearing to be weak and helpless,” Archbishop Sayah said.

Speaking with reporters March 19, Patriarch Rai praised Pope Shenouda “as a good shepherd who led his church ... with wisdom and care.”

Pope Benedict highlighted Pope Shenouda’s 1973 visit to the Vatican where he and Pope Paul VI formally signed an agreement on Christ’s humanity and divinity, ending more than 1,500 years of disputes on the issue, and clearing the way for the formal Roman Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that trace their origins to the Christian communities that did not accept the wording of the Council of Chalcedon’s definition in 451 that Christ was fully human and fully divine.

Pope Benedict also mentioned the meetings Pope Shenouda and Blessed John Paul II had in Cairo in 2000. At the end of an ecumenical prayer service in Cairo, Pope Shenouda broke through the formality of the event, embracing Pope John Paul and telling him: “We love our country, and we love you!” Pope John Paul replied, “We love you, too.”

From 1991 to 1998, Pope Shenouda served as one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches. In a statement March 18, the organization’s general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said Pope Shenouda will be remembered for his ecumenical leadership and as “a strong believer in Christian-Muslim conviviality and cooperation. His initiatives in the field of interreligious dialogue contributed to the unity of the Egyptian people.”

Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

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Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI