A good shepherd passes away

11-05-2012 01:29 PM

The Speech of H. E. Dr. Zsolt SEMJÉN,
Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary
on the occasion of the 40 day’s anniversary of H.H. Pope Shenouda’s passing away
(Budapest, 25 April 2012)

The Speech of H. E. Dr. Zsolt SEMJÉN, 
Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary
on the occasion of the 40 day’s anniversary of H.H. Pope Shenouda’s passing away
(Budapest, 25 April 2012) 
  With Peter’s faith, Paul’s heart and Andrew’s love let me commemorate the late Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark. 
His tragic passing away 40 days ago was a sad event not only to the Christian community of Egypt, the most populous Arab country, but also for every righteous and peace-loving person in the world, regardless of their religion. He was the spiritual leader for almost four decades of the largest Christian community of the Middle East that he led through good and bad times, just in the spirit of the Good Shepherd. Millions of Copts have been mourning for him inside and outside of Egypt since then, and we are mourning with them. 
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. That is exactly what Pope Shenouda did throughout his life. As St John’s Gospel put it: “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn##t own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees. The wolf snatches the sheep, and scatters them. The hired hand flees because he is a hired hand”. Pope Shenouda was not a hired hand but an excellent example for a Good Shepherd. He was always striving for protecting his sheep from the wolf as much as he could, whatever figure the wolf might have had during the last 40 years. And now he is praying for his sheep in the Heaven. 
During his pontificate, the Coptic Church of Egypt went through a genuine and unprecedented rejuvenation. Hundreds of churches were built and they became full of believers. The Coptic monasteries of Egypt, the cradles of Christian monasticism, became also full of young men and women eager to devote their life to the service of God and their brethren. Churches and monasteries filled with young people—a phenomenon that Europe can only dream about nowadays. While large parts of our continent are falling back to paganism and becoming an area that has to be re-converted to Christianity, there is a ray of hope in the East that for all Christian communities in the world: this is the rejuvenated Coptic Church of Pope Shenuda III. 
He was a spiritual leader widely respected all over the world, by Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers. Among those millions who gathered in Cairo to pray and to mourn after his passing away, there were many Muslims as well who desired to express their respect and sorrow for him. It is a well-known fact that he had a cordial relation with all the moderate Muslim leaders of Egypt, among them Ahmed Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar as well as Grand Mufti Ali Goma. This shows very clearly that the borderline is not between Christians and Muslims but between those who are devoted to God and search for Him honestly in whatever religion they are and those who just use religious slogans to follow their own political agenda.     
His passing away is a sad event for us, Hungarians, too, as he was very close to our heart. We had the honor to welcome him twice in our country. The first occasion was in 1996, when he attended the festivities organised to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the most ancient monastery of Hungary, the Abbey of Pannonhalma. His second and last visit took place just a few months ago, when he was the guest of honor of the Saint Steven’s Day celebrations, on the 20 August 2011. He did not only celebrate with us last year, but he also performed an act of a strong symbolic value: he inaugurated the first church of the Coptic community in Hungary. 
Through his presence in Hungary, his prayers with us and for us, he wrote his name forever in the heart and in the mind of our nation. Peace be upon his soul!
He rejuvenated the Church
The Speech of H. E. Dr. János HÓVÁRI, Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary on the occasion of the 40 day’s anniversary of H.H. Pope Shenouda’s passing away
(Budapest, 25 April 2012)  
To continue the thoughts of H. E. Zsolt Semjén, the Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary, I was deeply touched by what I saw in Cairo’s St Mark Cathedral last month when I attended the mourning ceremony for His Holiness as the representative of the Government of Hungary. It is hard to describe the feelings of so much love and sadness that I saw on the faces of all those who gathered there, from ordinary people to the highest dignitaries. Tens of thousands inside and outside the Cathedral came to pay tribute to a great man who led his community with a vision and wisdom for almost four decades.
Through my humble presence, the Government of Hungary wanted to express to our Coptic brothers and sisters our highest appreciation for Pope Shenouda’s work, all his achievements in the field of community building as well as interreligious dialogue. Furthermore, we wanted to express our solidarity with all Egyptians for the loss of such a great personality who did so much not only for his own Church but also for the better understanding between Christians and Muslims as well as for maintaining and strengthening the unity of his nation. His whole life was a guide to all peace-loving and consensus-oriented persons how to search for God honestly. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” So was the lifework of Pope Shenouda, appreciated and admired by all righteous persons in Egypt, in Hungary and all over the world.               
The Middle East, the region that is the cradle of Christianity and human civilisation in general, is undergoing tremendous changes. Now, the rain is coming down, the streams are rising, and the winds are blowing in the whole region. But we will not lose our faith that finally everything will come to a good end, everything will be better than it was before, particularly in Egypt. Egypt is not alone with all the challenges that it is facing today. Hungary stands on the side of Egypt as a true and old friend. You can count on us both in good times and in bad times! The Scripture says: “Out of Egypt, I called my Son”. Egypt has been a great and blessed country since biblical times that has seen many difficulties and challenges throughout her history. In the end, it always managed to overcome all of them. We, Christians know that after Good Friday, the Resurrection is sure to come!   
Concerning the late Pope’s far-sighted policy of rejuvenating the Coptic Church, which traces its origins to the Apostle Mark, he was similar to the “wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” The Good Shepherd has left, but his sheep are safe, although he had to leave them in difficult times. 
Pope Shenouda led what many would call a biblical and spiritual life — the heartbeat of this ancient church. He loved the Bible, studying it thoroughly, memorising vast passages, and teaching classes on its content. After becoming Pope in 1971, for many years he would teach from the Bible on a weekday night in St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. He would schedule his world travels to be back in time for these Bible studies. The cathedral would be packed, and Pope Shenouda would patiently answer the questions raised by those coming to listen.
Pope Shenouda also led the Coptic Orthodox Church in its proactive ecumenical commitments. He served as one of the regional presidents of the World Council of Churches from 1991 to 1998, and was also a president of the Middle East Council of Churches.  He had a heart for church unity matched by his actions.
His voice holding up the message of the Bible, and working humbly for justice and inter-religious reconciliation within his country, will be honoured.
Let us pray that it also will be heeded.  
Watani International
13 May 2012
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