Coptic and other Christians mourned the passing of Pope Shenouda III on March 17. Pope Shenouda III, 88, was the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians since 1971. Some Islamist leaders, particularly those in the Salafist movement, called Pope Shenouda the “head of infidels” and thanked Allah for his death. Members of the Salafist movement account for approximately twenty percent of the new Egyptian parliament through the Nour party.

According to Compass Direct, a media service that tracks Christian persecution worldwide, one leading Salafi “teacher,” Sheik Wagdy Ghoneim, in celebrating the passing of Pope Shenouda, posted the following on his Facebook page: “We rejoice that he is destroyed. He has perished. May Allah have his revenge on him in the fire of hell – he and all who walk his path.” Sheik Ghoneim characterized Pope Shenouda’s well-known desire to see Egyptian society protect the human rights of Christians as “impudence.” After Sheik Ghoneim posted his insults, several others followed in issuing insults. Of course, insulting people after their passing is considered abhorrent behavior in all cultures of which I know, but this is particularly so in the Middle East. Thus, I presume that the Sheik’s Facebook postings were intended to have maximum effect in insulting the Pope’s memory.

On Monday, March 19, the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s lower house of parliament, observed a moment of silence in remembrance of Pope Shenouda. However, a number of Salafi parliamentarians refused to stand in remembrance of Pope Shenouda, while others left the chambers before the moment of silence.

Most of us are unfamiliar with the legacy of Pope Shenouda. Compass Direct recently wrote of Pope Shenouda:

He led the church through some of its most challenging times, often coming into conflict with the government. In 1981, he criticized then-President Anwar Sadat for what Pope Shenouda characterized as an inadequate response to the rise of what is now called “political Islam” in Egypt. For this and the Coptic protests against Sadat that followed, Sadat banished Pope Shenouda to a monastery in the desert. Pope Shenouda was released three years later, after Islamic militants assassinated Sadat, and after his successor, Hosni Mubarak, granted the Pope amnesty.

On March 20, Pope Shenouda was buried. However, according to Compass Direct, on the day before the Pope’s burial, attorney Naguib Ghobrial, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, filed a lawsuit against Sheik Ghoneim for contempt of a revealed religion. In response, the Sheik issued a challenge to all Christians. He said:

You believe in your Bible and say its words are holy. [Your Bible teaches] “Love your enemies and bless all who curse you.” Your enemies – you love them and those who curse you – you bless them. So I say, God curse you! Bless me now. Bless me. Isn’t this your religion? I am going to say it again – I am your enemy, and I say, God curse you. Now, say it: “We love you Wagdy. And God bless you Wagdy.”

 During his illness, I and others in our church, along with Christians worldwide, prayed for Pope Shenouda asking God for his recovery. In a recent interview, Bishop Mouneer Anis, head of the Episcopal and Anglican Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa, said of Pope Shenouda, “He was a friend of many Muslim leaders. He was a peacemaker. He was even criticized by Christians for making peace with those who persecuted the church.” Shortly before his passing, Pope Shenouda’s last public meeting was with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Pope Shenouda III left a powerful witness for the Lord Jesus Christ and a legacy of struggle for the freedom of persecuted Christians in Egypt. As our Lord taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” May the memory of this son of God, Pope Shenouda III, be eternal! As for Sheik Ghoneim, I am praying that he become a great Christian evangelist and apologist to the people of the Middle East. Perhaps even on his next trip to Damascus. Such things have happened before.