With Lent halfway through, one of the Christian sects that observe this time of year the most has lost its leader and mentor. The Copts have lost Pope Shenouda today, at an age of 89.
I have met many Copts throughout my life . And what I’ve touched from them all is their deep belonging to their church and their commitment to their faith. In a time when relinquishing such things for the pleasures of life has become a way of life, them clinging to their heritage has always been admirable to me.
Pope Shenouda has had a great deal with the Copts’ attachment to their faith. For a sect that is so heavily persecuted, they do not relent. They do not fear dying for their rights. They do not fear dying to keep their voices high and heard. In a way, the Copts are examplary for the Christians of the East. They are a minority that doesn’t act like one: it’s not subdued, it’s never rendered insignificant and over the past forty years of forced marginalization, they still exist.
They have been the central pillar in the foundation of the country whose name is as it is today because of them. The Copts were an essential part of Egyptian history and are considered by many as the founders of that country. Pope Shenouda was the 117th Pope to preside over them.
It may be because of their resiliency as people and their clinging to their heritage. But the leadership of Pope Shenouda had a great deal to do with the preservation of the Copts in such tumultuous times. Not only did he keep the Coptic church alive, he also expanded it in various countries around the world.
Pope Shenouda had been exiled for defending his people against Egyptian presidents who didn’t think those people deserved to be defended. He let his own health deteriorate to breathe life into his own congregation. He was an advocate for ecumenism (Christian unity) and showed strong commitment to the inter-dialogue of different Christian denominations.
I, as a Lebanese generally and Maronite precisely, am saddened by the passing of such a man. I truly hope his passing is one of the last days of sorrow for the Copts and Christians of Egypt. Pope Shenouda’s departure from this world couldn’t have fallen at a more appropriate time – if there’s ever such a time. Easter is one of the favorite periods of the year for Copts. Pope Shenouda must have been serene knowing he was moving on during his favorite time of the year, smiling, sure that the Church he worked forty years to protect is here to stay.
Rest in peace Pope Shenouda – and to all Copts in the world, may your struggles find their conclusion with the conclusion of his life.