Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church this month celebrated the centenary of the birth ofpope Shenouda III, the 117th patriarch of the Church who died in 2012 at 88.
The three-day occasion took place under the auspices of Pope Tawadros II, the pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St Mark. The event commenced with a scientific and research conference organised by the Coptic Cultural Centre, culminating on the third day with a grand celebration held at Al-Manara Conference Centre in New Cairo.
Pope Shenouda was born on 3 August 1923 in Al-Salam village, in Assiut governorate in Upper Egypt. He was the first bishop for education and the first patriarch to be a member of the Press Syndicate. He was ordained as the first bishop for youth.
Under his leadership, the Holy Synod established a fundamental charter, and the church’s service in the diaspora expanded significantly. Additionally, several Coptic monasteries were built abroad during his tenure on the papal throne.
Anba Ermia, head of the Coptic Cultural Centre and the patriarch’s secretary, saidpope Shenoudahad a keen interest in pastoral visits beyond Egypt. He embarked on 104 papal visits abroad to connect with expatriate Egyptians and strengthen ties to their homeland, he added.
Pope Shenouda served at the helm of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 40 years, making him one of the few popes in modern times to enjoysuch a long tenure on the chair of St Mark the Apostle.
From a young age, pope Shenouda cultivated his intellectual and spiritual growth through reading, which fostered his affection for the Arabic language and led him to explore the works of distinguished poets and writers. He held deep admiration for renowned poets Ahmed Shawki, Elia Abu Madi, and Emile Naima.
In atelevised interview in early 2003hesaid that initially, Hafez Ibrahim was his favourite poet but over timehe developed a greater fondness for the Prince of Poets [Shawki]. “I had memorised most of the verses of The Death of Cleopatra and The Mad About Laila.”
Pope Shenouda had an infectious smile and spread joy to those around him. He had a sense of humour and enjoyed telling jokes.
He was eloquent, choosing his words carefully to express his emotions. He wrote prose to express his dislike for geography. When asked about his humorous compositions, he jokingly said that had he “engaged in worldly matters” – not choosing a monastic life – he would have become a songwriter.
The pope also employed colloquial poetry and prose to joke with his friends. At his university graduation, he composed a story in which he humorously expressed his fear for his colleague of the evil eye, particularly from faculty members.
AnbaArmia said Pope Shenouda had a deep love for writing in all its forms, and often crafted poems expressing his affection for Egypt.
The patriarch was not only a spiritual leader but also a poet, writer, and author who maintained a harmonious relationship with the Arabic language. He explored its beauty in literature and poetry, and his contributions included over 150 books along with his journalistic articles in the Arabic daily Al-Ahram.
Pope Shenouda fearlessly expressed his opinions even when they went against popular sentiment. He remained true to his convictions even if they brought him into conflict with certain individuals. One notable example was his opposition to the policies of formerpresident Anwar Al-Sadat regarding the Palestinian cause. Thecriticism resulted in pope Shenouda being placed under house arrest in WadiAl-Natroun Monastery for several years.
Speaking about his patriotic stances, journalist Ahmed Al-Sarsawisaidpope Shenouda actively participated alongside soldiers on the frontlines during times of war.
Additionally, he made a decision not to visit Jerusalem for Coptic-related matters until Palestine was liberated from occupation.
He staunchly rejected external interference in Egypt’s affairs, particularly attempts made by the US. Furthermore, he held a firm stance against normalisation with Israel, fully opposing it with what was described ashis heart and soul.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 17 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly