Pope Shenouda heads for US medical check-up

AFP, Saturday 8 Jan 2011

Pope Shenouda heads to US for medical treatment

Pope Shenouda

The elderly head of the Coptic church, Pope Shenouda III, heads to the United States on Sunday for a check-up more than two years after treatment for a broken thigh bone,  MENA reported.

Shenouda, who turns 88 in August, will be admitted to a Cleveland, Ohio, hospital where he underwent treatment for a broken thigh bone in 2008, MENA said.

The patriarch, who heads the Middle East's largest Christian community, suffers back and kidney problems and has travelled repeatedly to the United States in recent years for medical treatment.

In May 2008 he was hospitalised in Cleveland for kidney problems. In June of the same year he returned to Cleveland after falling and breaking his thigh bone. He returned home four months later.

His departure on Sunday comes after 21 people were killed on New Year's Day in a church bombing in the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria.
Coptic Christians account for up to 10 percent of Egypt's Muslim-dominated population of 80 million.

On Friday, Copts marked a sombre Christmas under high police protection, in the aftermath of the bombing.

The attack has sparked riots by Copts who complain of discrimination and have accused the authorities of failing to protect them.

Dozens of protesters and police have been injured in the protests, which erupted despite appeals by the church and the authorities for restraint.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after threats to Egypt's Copts from the Al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq that claimed responsibility for an October 31 attack on a Baghdad church.

The group, the Islamic State of Iraq, said it would attack Copts if their church failed to release two women it alleges were being held against their will after converting to Islam.

After the Baghdad attack, a website linked to Al-Qaeda published a list of Coptic places of worship it said should be targeted in Egypt and Europe.

Shenouda is the 117th successor of Saint Mark, who according to tradition founded the Coptic Church in the first century. He has headed the church since 1971.

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