Mr. Speaker, this month, the world laid to rest a holy and wise spiritual leader, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic Seat of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, who passed from this life on March 17,
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III presided more than 40 years over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church. During his papacy, he appointed the first-ever bishops to preside over North American dioceses. When His Holiness became pope in 1971, there were only four churches in North America. Today there are over 100.
Pope Shenouda III was well known for his deep commitment to ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. He believed that Christian unity was a matter of faith rather than of jurisdiction. In 1973, Pope Shenouda III became the first Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria to meet the Roman Catholic Pope in over 1500 years. In this visit, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI signed a common declaration on the issue of Christology and agreed to further discussions on Christian unity. He led dialogues with various Protestant churches as well as Islamic clerics and Muslim leaders worldwide.
In an address he gave at an ecumenical forum during the International Week of Prayer in 1974, he declared, ``The whole Christian world is anxious to see the church unite. Christian people, being fed up with divisions, are pushing their church leaders to do something about church unity and I am sure that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us.''
A biographer aptly described Pope Shenouda III as ``A distinguished and prominent religious leader, a profound theologian, a gifted preacher, a talented author, a spiritual father, a man of God his entire life. He devoted his writings, teachings and actions to spread and propagate for the rules of understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness.''
I had the unforgettable honor of meeting Pope Shenouda III as our local Coptic Christian Church in Northern Ohio was being constructed. He was a man of immense faith, great humanity, and deep intellect. When I asked him about future unity among various faith confessions, I will never forget his steady, strong countenance as he advised me ``that would take love.'' He was a very profound man.
President Obama called Pope Shenouda III ``a beloved leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians and an advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue,'' and said he will be remembered ``as a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation.'' The faith community around the world and people of good will everywhere joins the Coptic Orthodox Church in mourning the passing of Pope Shenouda III from this life. We extend our sympathy to church members worldwide and in our own community. His contributions to world understanding and bridging horizons yet unmet will flower in decades hence. May God bless his soul and allow his unfinished work to progress in his memory.
Cairo--In front of a tearful crowd of thousands including members of Egypt's emerging political class, a funeral service was held on Tuesday for Pope Shenouda III, the popular and charismatic leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died on Saturday. The pope's body lay in an open white casket through the emotional two-hour ceremony in St. Mark's Cathedral, where he was remembered as a ``wise captain'' who built bridges to Muslims and other Christian denominations and who strengthened the identity of the church, especially among its younger members. Hundreds more people stood outside the cathedral, unable to gain entry to the invitation-only service. The scene turned to pandemonium later in the day when thousands of people mobbed a van carrying the pope's body to his burial site, in a monastery in northern Egypt. Red-faced military policemen wrestled with mourners carrying the pope's portrait who were straining for a last glimpse of him through the dark windows of the white van. The flood of grief for the only pope many Egyptian Copts had ever known--he was enthroned in 1971--underscored feelings of unease that many Christians have felt in the ongoing tumult of Egypt's political transition. Roughly 1 in 10 Egyptians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which was founded in the first century and was the majority religion here before the coming of Islam. In recent years, long-held complaints about anti-Coptic discrimination have been replaced by deeper fears that Islamist parties will further marginalize the Christian population as they try to refashion Egypt into a more observant Muslim state. For most of his four decades as patriarch, Pope Shenouda managed a delicate balancing act, strongly supporting President Hosni Mubarak in exchange for a measure of protection as the pope strengthened the church's power and reach. He was broadly popular among Egyptians, and was especially well-known for his wit. He was also seen as rigid defender of a conservative church, and some Copts faulted him for resisting reform. Criticism of Pope Shenouda's relationship with Mr. Mubarak became more pronounced after the popular uprising against Mr. Mubarak's rule took hold in January 2011, with attacks on churches and Coptic protesters, by hardline Islamists and the government's troops following behind. Since the pope's death, though, that criticism has been laced with sadness. ``I don't disagree that he interfered with politics,'' said Mina Samy, a 30-year old physician outside St. Mark's on Tuesday. ``But when he spoke, he did it for Egypt's best interest, not for his personal interests, like others do. ``I'm hoping for another copy of him,'' he said. ``Nothing is too much for God. He was a great scholar, and he led the church through major crisis. He left us at a time when Egypt needed him.''
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