Baba Shenouda, Coptic Christian Pope, Dies in Cairo

By Betsy Hiel; Bill Vidonic | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Baba Shenouda, Coptic Christian Pope, Dies in Cairo


Betsy Hiel; Bill Vidonic, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Jessica Rizk remembers the day that the Coptic Orthodox spiritual leader, Pope Shenouda III, consecrated Western Pennsylvania's only Coptic church five years ago.

"The fact that he came to our smaller church meant a lot to us," Rizk, 28, of Penn Hills said on Saturday of the Sept. 2, 2007, ceremony at St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Ambridge. "It was a very important day."

Shenouda, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church Alexandria who led Egypt's minority Christians for 40 years during a time of increased tensions with the majority Muslim community, died yesterday in Cairo. He was 88.

Shenouda, known in Cairo in Arabic as Baba Shenouda, led one of the world's oldest churches, which traced its founding to St. Mark in the 1st century.

Shenouda suffered from the effects of cancer and died of a heart attack yesterday afternoon.

As news broke in Cairo, Coptic Christians gathered in the Coptic Cathedral and other churches across the city and country to pay their respects, some showing the cross tattoos on their wrists to gain entry. Some television stations put a black stripe across the left corner of the screen in mourning, in addition to their coverage of the life of Shenouda.

Muslim and political leaders offered their condolences. The head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Morsi, offered his condolences regarding Shenouda "after his long patriotic history and enormous contributions to the nation."

His death occurs as minority Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, feel particularly vulnerable. Since last year's revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has witnessed the rise of the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis who now dominate the parliament.

This past year, Egyptians witnessed the highest rate of sectarian attacks on Christians. The attacks included church arsons, mobs damaging Christian homes and shops and the Egyptian military killing Christian protesters.

"Pope Shenouda was both a spiritual and political leader for the Christians," said Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh. "I think Christians will feel more insecure now. …

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