Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pope of Coptic Christians Dies

The Coptic Church is one of the oldest Christian congregations in the world.  Centered primarily in Egypt today, many miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary have occurred in Egypt. 

As those familiar with the Biblical account know, it was to Egypt that Joseph led his small family of wife Mary and infant Jesus in order to flee from Herod's wrath when the ancient prophecy came true with the birth of Mary's child, Jesus, that a King of Kings would be born who would overthrow Herod and, eventually, his line.  In a favorite way of The Lord communicating with true believers, Joseph had a dream in which an Angel told him to take his family and flee to Egypt immediately, without even taking time to pack.  Joseph did so.

When three astrologers from Chaldea arrived at Herod's court to inquire about the sign theyd seen in the sky and told the court of their  knowledge of an ancient recorded prophecy of a "savior" being born (perhaps learned during the time when the ancient Israelites were held captive in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 to the Babylonians in 586 BCE), Herod lit a fire under the butts of his own soothsayers.  They searched ancient Hebrew scrolls and prophecies and informed Herod that the great sign in the sky - a special "star" - indicated that a child had been born that would fulfill the ancient prophecy.  Herod thereafter initiated a slaughter of all male children of age 2 and under in the territory under his control, in the hope of slaying the prophesied "usurper."  He failed.  The rest, as the saying goes, is Herstory...

Jesus and his family stayed in Egypt for several years.  There is some dispute about how long, exactly, and there is no record of what the family did during their time in Egypt.  After Joseph led his family to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter of the innocents, the next we hear of Jesus in the biblical account is when he appears in Jerusalem with his family at age 12...

It was eons later that, thanks to the writing kept alive by the ancient Christian Coptic Church, Jean-François Champollion (building upon years of work by others as well as himself, who had studied the Coptic writings) deciphered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822.  A whole new ancient world was thus opened up to the world...

It is with this short herstory of a long inter-related background that I sadly report on the death of Pope Shenouda III, leader of Coptic Christians.  Many things have come to an end in Egypt within the past several months; this is one more:

Reported at several news outlets, this coverage is from The Washington Post:

Pope Shenouda III, leader of Coptic Christians, dies at 88
By Lee Keath and Maggie Michael, Sunday, March 18, 5:18 PM

Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church who led Egypt’s Christian minority for 40 years during a time of increasing tensions with Muslims, died March 17 at his residence in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. He was 88.

The state news agency MENA reported his death. He had suffered from cancer and liver and lung problems for several years.

Pope Shenouda’s death comes amid a deepening sense of vulnerability among Egypt’s estimated 10 million Christians. Islamic movements have grown increasingly powerful since the toppling last year of President Hosni Mubarak.

Recent months have seen a string of attacks on the community, heightened anti-Christian rhetoric by ultraconservatives known as Salafis and fears that future governments will try to impose strict versions of Islamic law.

Tens of thousands of Christians packed into the cathedral Saturday evening in hopes of seeing the pope’s body. Women in black wept and screamed. Other mourners, unable to enter the overcrowded building, gathered outside.

President Obama called Pope Shenouda “a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation.”

“His commitment to Egypt’s national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together,” Obama said in a statement.

“Baba Shenouda,” as the pope was known to his followers, headed one of the most ancient Christian churches in the world. The Coptic Church traces its founding to St. Mark, who is said to have brought Christianity to Egypt in the 1st century.

For Egypt’s Christians, Pope Shenouda was a charismatic leader — his smiling portrait was displayed in many Coptic homes and shops — and a conservative religious thinker who resisted calls by liberals for reform.

Above all, many Copts saw him as the guardian of their community amid the Muslim majority in Egypt, a country of more than 80 million people. Christians there have long said that they face discrimination and that police generally fail to prosecute those behind anti-Christian attacks.

Pope Shenouda’s method was to work behind the scenes. He sought to contain Christians’ anger and gave strong support to Mubarak’s government. He avoided pressing Coptic demands too vocally in public to prevent a backlash from Muslim conservatives. In return, Mubarak’s regime allowed the church wide powers within the Christian community.

In the past year, young and liberal Christians have grown increasingly outspoken in their criticism of Pope Shenouda’s approach, saying it brought little success in stemming violence or discrimination. Moreover, they argued, the church’s domination over Christians’ lives further ghettoized them, making them a sect first, Egyptian citizens second.

Pope Shenouda clashed with the government in 1981, when he accused then-President Anwar Sadat of failing to rein in Islamic militants. Sadat said the pope was fomenting sectarianism and sent him into internal exile. Sadat was assassinated later that year by militants, and Mubarak ended Pope Shenouda’s exile in 1985.

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