One year on Pope Shenouda’s departure
Today marks one year on the departure of Pope Shenouda III from our world.
That day Egypt and the Church stood aggrieved and tearful at the death of His Holiness, at the loss of a figure who embodied love, wisdom and the concept of full citizenship. Egyptians of all walks of life recalled the accomplishments of Pope Shenouda during his 40 years as patriarch. The deep love and veneration in which he was held by Egyptians—and Arabs too—had earned him the monikers “Pope of Egypt” and “Pope of the Arabs”. Egypt empathised with the Church’s loss of Pope Shenouda, and agreed that it would be difficult to find someone of the same calibre to fill the seat of St Mark.
The deep sense of pain over the loss of Pope Shenouda was augmented by worries and fears over who would succeed him and how the Church would go about the business of selecting the successor. This was a tough process beset with challenges and storms, and took some eight months to accomplish. Heaven had arranged for a wise skillful commander, Anba Pachomeus, who was able to steer the Church amidst the storms to a safe shore. Anba Pachomeus, the archbishop of Beheira, was locum tenens following Pope Shenouda III’s death last March and until Pope Tawadros II was enthroned in November. History will record how, during this interim period, Anba Pachomeus’s legendary wisdom, love, and honour led the congregation and clergy of the Coptic Orthodox Church with transparency and democracy. He listened to everyone and accommodated different factions. His exceptional blend of character and wisdom was responsible for guiding the Church towards selecting a new pope, a process finally achieved through model elections that were the talk of the world. And in this context, we must give credit where credit is due: the role played by Bishop of Tanta Anba Pola in the organisation of the elections and ceremonies—with meticulous care given to every minute detail—cannot be sufficiently underscored. Finally, it was Divine selection that brought in Pope Tawadros II as the 118th successor of St Mark, through an altar draw.
As we commemorate Pope Shenouda III one year on his departure, we must own that comfort, appreciation and joy have replaced our fears and worries. The love, spontaneity, and modesty displayed by Pope Tawadros II have endeared him to all and lent him unique charm. His eagerness to extend a hand to all other Churches has worked to foster a climate of hope and optimism at a time in Egypt when hope and optimism have become scarce.
But where is Egypt from all that? As I look at the transitional phase Egypt has been undergoing for more than 24 months since the January 2011 Revolution, I am overwhelmed with grief, desolation and bitterness; especially at the general decline and widespread divisions among Egyptians. I cannot help comparing between the transitional period traversed by the Church and that still prevailing in Egypt. The comparison harshly exposes how those today monopolising power in Egypt are in dire need of wisdom and foresight, and how their lack of both these essential qualities has led us to the current catastrophic situation on all fronts: politically, economically and security wise.
The words of Anba Pachomeus still resound in my ears. “I should accept everyone,” he said. And, concerning those candidates for the papacy who were not finally selected, he said: “They have always served, and will continue to serve the Church honourably. They go back to their original posts in full dignity and esteem.” This was no mere talk on behalf of Anba Pachomeus; he was committed to his every word. How often do we hear honeyed rhetoric from President Mursi, his party and his clan [the moniker he commonly uses to denote the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which he belongs] but, on the ground, we find no trace to the hollow words. Rather, we are shocked to find the exact opposite of the President’s words applied. Sadly, the pledge by the President to be “a president for all Egyptians” has vanished into thin air, and hopes for upholding the national interest and entrenching freedom, dignity and social justice have been smashed. Egypt has descended into a pathos of struggles and divisions because of the unchecked lust for hegemony and power monopoly.
May God be with Egypt as she crosses her transitional period.
17 March 2013