Archbishop Vincent Nichols has sent his condolences to the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Great Britain after the death of Pope Shenouda III, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, on Saturday.
Pope Shenouda III, who led Egypt’s Christian minority for 40 years during a difficult time for Middle Eastern Christianity, died at his residence in St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, aged 88.
He had suffered from cancer and liver and lung problems for several years.
Pope Shenouda’s death comes at a time when Egypt’s 10 million Christians feel increasingly vulnerable following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in January last year.
Since then hard line Salafists have grown increasingly vocal and there are increasing fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will take power.
The archbishop, in a joint letter with Archbishop Bernard Longley, chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity, wrote: “I wish to convey to the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in England and Wales, the most sincere condolences of all the members of the Bishops’ Conference on the death of His Holiness Shenuda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark.
“During his long reign over 40 years as the spiritual leader of one of the world’s great and ancient Christian Churches, His Holiness demonstrated not only a profound desire to minister to the needs of Coptic Orthodox Christians but also a strong commitment to building up the spiritual bond of friendship and communion with the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches and communities.
“Treasured as a dear brother in the Lord by Pope Paul VI and his successors, we recall that His Holiness Pope Shenuda III was the first Coptic Orthodox Pope to visit the Holy See in over 1500 years and signed a historic joint declaration with the Catholic Church on that occasion. We recall also the very special visit that Blessed Pope John Paul II made to Pope Shenuda in Cairo during the Year of the Great Jubilee.
“Under the strong yet gentle leadership of Pope Shenuda III, the Coptic Orthodox Church has seen a remarkable revival and growth both in Egypt and throughout many countries in the world, including England and Wales. He courageously defended the rights of Coptic Christians and worked tirelessly for peace and justice. In this, his loss will be felt not only by his own Church but by Christians internationally.”
They concluded: “We pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will welcome into his Kingdom of eternal peace perpetual light this faithful shepherd of His flock, and grant consolation and comfort to all those who mourn his passing.”