Mar 20, 2012

Death of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III – condolence motion

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (19:31):  I rise to extend my condolences to Egyptian Coptics the world over and, in particular, in my electorate of Grayndler for the passing of their spiritual leader and the 117th Pope of Alexandria, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. Born in 1923, and the youngest of eight children, Pope Shenouda graduated from Cairo University with a degree in history and taught high school English and social studies before graduating from the Coptic Theological Seminary in 1949. Pope Shenouda was appointed to the bishopric of Christian education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Summary in 1962 and, after seven years of his leadership, the number of students at the seminary had increased tenfold.

His Holiness was suspended from the church between 1966 and 1969 for his radical ‘campaigns for change’, which among other things called for the popular election of bishops and priests. In 1973, His Holiness was the first Coptic Orthodox pope to sit down with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 1,500 years. Both men agreed they would encourage greater Christian unity between their faiths.

Pope Shenouda was passionate about social justice and equality, especially the need for peace in the Middle East and justice for the Palestinian people. After the cessation for several centuries, Pope Shenouda also reinstated the ordination of deaconesses and brought women into theological colleges and communal church councils. His Holiness devoted himself to bringing the people of Egypt together, no matter what their faith. In 2001, he said:

“Love generates love, and separation generates separation.”

His Holiness inspired the growth of churches outside Egypt, from seven in 1971 to more than 150 today. Indeed, the first Coptic church in Australia was established in my electorate of Grayndler—St Mary and St Mina’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Railway Road, Sydenham. He also empowered Coptic youth around the world and drew them into the church, declaring that ‘a Church without youth is a Church without a future’. Indeed, His Holiness was vital in setting up three Coptic Orthodox schools in Sydney. He was a scholar and a philosopher, authoring more than 100 books in his time as Pope of Alexandria on spirituality and theology. I like the words of Father Antonios Kaldas of the Archangel Michael and St Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney. Let me quote:

“The real Church is not made up of buildings and institutions. Those things are just tools we use to build the real Church, which is made up of the hearts and lives of every member of the Church. Where there is love, where there is truth, where there is wisdom, and nobility, integrity and honour, kindness and compassion—that is the real church.

These are not things that you can put numbers to get yet they are the things that really matter. They are the things that Pope Shenouda has a very special way of nurturing and inspiring in others.”

I certainly had the great honour of meeting Pope Shenouda on his sixth papal visit to Australia in November 2002. Prior to that I had travelled to Egypt. Included on that delegation were two Marrickville councillors, Morris Hanna, now the Mayor of Marrickville, and Morris Tadros, as part of the delegation from my local community to Egypt. There we met many Coptic Orthodox leaders and engaged in a dialogue that was extremely positive.

Pope Shenouda was indeed a special man, a man who led from the heart, promoting peace and understanding between Egyptians the world over. I offer my sincere condolences to the Coptic Orthodox community in this time of mourning and sadness.