Easter without Pope Shenouda
For 40 years, the highlight of the Copts’ joyous Easter period was the midnight Mass led by Pope Shenouda III on the eve of Easter Day. Even before Mass was broadcast live on TV
Easter without Pope Shenouda
For 40 years, the highlight of the Copts’ joyous Easter period was the midnight Mass led by Pope Shenouda III on the eve of Easter Day. Even before Mass was broadcast live on TV since the 1980s, part of it was broadcast the following day, and was widely watched by Copts especially those living outside Egypt. This will be the first time in 40 years that Pope Shenouda, who passed away on 17 March, will not be there to say Mass.
The majority of Copts are heartbroken at the loss of the Pope who was, for them, a strong father figure. Many feel their grief is beyond the traditional Easter joy, which has brought up many questions as to how Easter should be celebrated this year.
The joy of Easter
For its part, the Church has announced that Easter rituals will go on as usual: these rituals concerned Christ’s passion and resurrection, and took precedence over any human event.
Father Sarapamon Anba Bishoi, who manages public relations at the Monastery of Anba Bishoi at Wadi al-Natrun in the Western Desert, says the rituals of the Church do not change when someone, whoever that is, passes away. Church rituals are all related to Jesus Christ, and Pope Shenouda through his sermons and teachings merely helped bring us closer to the Lord. So the Church will perform all Easter prayers as usual.
As for personal grief, Father Sarapamon says, it is a private sentiment in which the Church plays no part. “I can remember a child who came to visit the Pope’s shrine, and told me: ‘I have decided not to buy new clothes for Easter because I am sad the Pope has died.’ This feeling is appreciated but it is still personal.” Yet, Fr Sarapamon insists, our strong faith should make it clear that the Pope is now with Christ in Heaven, and that it is Christ who should fill all our lives. The Bible says: “It is not I, but Christ who lives in me.”
A big difference
In front of the Pope’s shrine at Anba Bishoi’s I met Magdy Fawzy, a driver, who had come all the way from Cairo and seemed deeply saddened. “There will be a big difference this feast,” he told me. “Honestly, we don’t feel the joy of the feast. I didn’t buy new clothes for myself, my wife or my children. I wish we would have all died but the pope lived.”
I replied: “This is the feast of Christ.”
“We used to see Christ in Pope Shenouda,” he said. I was dumbfounded!
When I decided to visit the pope’s shrine that day, I woke up early and woke my four-year-old son Filopatir. “Where are we going?” he asked. I said we were going to visit the pope. With great sadness he innocently asked: “Isn’t the Pope dead?”
I felt how close Pope Shenouda was to children’s hearts. They miss him and mourn his departure so genuinely.
How can I break my fast?
Soheir Hilmy, a 58-year housewife said the family used to break their 55-day-long fast directly after listening to the Easter Mass read by Pope Shenouda. “I used to feel he was speaking to me personally. The feast for me was all about seeing the Pope at the Mass and listening to his sermon. I can’t imagine how the feast will be without him.”
For Mary Ramsis, however, who teaches Sunday school in a Cairo church, it is unacceptable that the traditional Easter morning activities for the children at church, which usually includes the distribution of toys and sweets, should be cancelled in mourning for the Pope, as some church officials emotionally said. “I believe that if Pope Shenouda himself were asked about such a move, he would totally reject it,” Ms Ramsis says. “We have to teach our children that only God is our source of happiness.” She insisted she was buying her children the traditional new clothes, and cooking their favourite food as usual.
15 April 2012