VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On learning of the death of the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church His Holiness Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria, the Holy Father Benedict XVI sent a message of condolence:
“Learning with sadness of the passing to God, our common Father, of His Holiness Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria and of the Preaching of St. Mark, I wish to express to the members of the Holy Synod, to the priests and the faithful of the whole patriarchate, my deepest sentiments of fraternal compassion,” the message said.
“I can likewise say that the whole Catholic Church shares in the sadness that afflicts the Orthodox Copts and that she fervently prays to him who is the resurrection and the life, asking that he welcome his faithful servant. May the all-merciful God receive him into his joy, his peace and his light,” the Pope said.
Cardinal Peter Erdo, president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), also expressed his condolences for the death of Pope Shenouda III.
In a telegram of sympathy, addressed to the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Churches, the archbishop of Budapest said: “We are shaken by the sad news of the death of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. In his person the Christian world loses one of its excellent and exemplary leaders.”
The head of the European bishops shared “the grief of his faithful and of all people of good will” of the North African country.
Cardinal Erdo then recalled the “fraternal and ecumenical relations” that blossomed between the Hungarian Catholic Church and the Coptic-Orthodox Church, thanks to the contribution of Patriarch Shenouda.
“Remaining faithful to his spiritual legacy, we intend to maintain this precious and friendly relationship of Christian brotherhood and solidarity,” he concluded.
“We lose a friend with whom we were united for long years,” commented Gregory III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, in a statement issued on Monday.
Gregory III went to Cairo to attend Shenouda III’s funeral on Monday. “Shenouda III was the patriarch of the largest Orthodox Church of the Middle East, embodying in his person the whole history of his Church,” said Gregory III.
Patriarch Gregory III evoked the celebrations of the Lord’s Nativity in Cairo according to the Coptic tradition, which the Melkite patriarch has attended since his election to the See of Antioch of the Greek-Melkites in 2011, and which enabled him to be beside Shenouda III, before joining his “prayer to that of the whole Coptic Orthodox Church for the repose of the soul of its mourned pastor and for the Holy Spirit to illumine hearts so that the designated successor will enable the Coptic Church to continue its altogether particular mission.”
Following the funeral in Cario, Pope Shenouda’s body was taken northwest of Cairo and buried in a remote desert monastery.
Pope Shenouda led the Coptic Church for more than 40 years, amid growing sectarian tensions in the country including increasing attacks on churches by Islamists.
There are about 10 million members of the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide, of which 8 million are in Egypt, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.