Pope Benedict XVI released a message saying that the Catholic Church shares the pain of the Copts over Pope Shenouda III’s death on Saturday.
Benedict sent a condolence message to Coptic Christians on Sunday following the death of Pope Shenouda at age 89.
“Upon learning of the sad departure to God, our common Father, of His Holiness Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria on the See of Saint Mark the Evangelist, I wish to express to the members of the Holy Synod, to the priests and the faithful of the Patriarchate, my most sincere brotherly compassion,” the message said.
Shenouda led the Coptic Church in Egypt for more than 40 years, amid increasing sectarian tensions in the country. Copts make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Pope Benedict has called for greater protections for Egypt’s Christians after a recent surge in attacks, but his brief message Sunday focused only on conveying condolences and prayer for Shenouda, God’s “faithful servant.”
Pope John Paul II met with Shenouda during his 2000 trip to Cairo and Pope Paul VI hosted Shenouda at the Vatican in 1973.
“I recall with gratitude his commitment to Christian unity, including his memorable visit to my predecessor Pope Paul VI and their signing of the Joint Declaration of Faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God together in Rome, on 10 May 1973, as well as his Cairo meeting with Pope John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, on 24 February 2000,” Pope Benedict’s message said.
“The Catholic Church shares the grief that afflicts the Copts and stands in fervent prayer asking that He, who is the Resurrection and the Life, might welcome his faithful servant,” he added.
Among the Coptic community Pope Shenouda was known for his sense of humor — his smiling portrait hung in many Coptic homes and shops — and for being a deeply conservative religious thinker who resisted calls for reform.
Above all, many Copts saw him as the guardian of their community living amid a Muslim majority in this country of more than 80 million people. Christians have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens, saying they face discrimination and that the state fails to prosecute those behind anti-Christian attacks.