Obama pays homage to Egypt's Pope Shenouda

AFP , Sunday 18 Mar 2012

US president offers condolences to Coptic Christian community after death of Pope Shenouda III, who he describes as an advocate for 'tolerance and religious dialogue'

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Egypt's Pope Shenouda listens to US President Barack Obama speaking at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, June 2009 (Photo: AP)

A "saddened" President Barack Obama hailed Coptic Pope Shenouda III as an "advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue" after the Egyptian spiritual leader's death Saturday.

The leader of the Middle East's largest Christian minority died at the age of 88 after battling health problems with years. He had recently stopped receiving treatment for liver failure and tumours or swelling in his lungs because he was too feeble, the Coptic Church said.

Obama said in a statement that he and his wife Michelle "are saddened to learn of the passing of Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III, a beloved leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians and an advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue."

"We stand alongside Coptic Christians and Egyptians as they honour his contributions in support of peace and cooperation," the US president said.

Obama said he remembered Shenouda "as a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation."

"His commitment to Egypt's national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together," Obama added.

Shenouda leaves behind a nervous community, a target of frequent sectarian attacks in recent years who complain of routine harassment and systematic discrimination and marginalization.

Egypt has also seen increased tensions between Muslims and Christians over the past few months, sparked by neighbourhood quarrels and disputes over church building and rumours of forced conversions.

Copts have been particularly concerned since Islamist parties, including ultra-conservative Salafi groups, won nearly three-quarters of the seats in the first parliamentary elections since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.

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