Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria died in Cairo on Saturday after over forty years as head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Elected to the Holy See of St. Mark in 1971, Pope Shenouda guided Egypt's Copts through trying and tumultuous times. As leader of a Christian community that traces its roots to the apostolic era, Pope Shenouda worked hard to encourage members of his flock to remain in their ancestral homeland despite political and economic factors that led many to emigrate; at the same time, the Pope challenged Egypt's political leaders to roll back onerous restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians and sought to remind the country's Muslim majority that Christianity was an ancient - and still important - part of Egyptian culture and society.
Media reports suggest that Pope Shenouda III was a figure who won the respect and admiration of Egyptians of all faiths, coming to be seen as a national moral authority. His death comes at a particularly difficult time for Egypt's Copts, as political instability continues to grip the country and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism makes Christians' future in Egypt increasingly uncertain. I pray for the Coptic Orthodox Church as its members mourn the loss of their Patriarch and prepare to elect his successor, and I pray that the memory of Pope Shenouda III may be eternal. AMDG.