Continued from page 1

“Words, my beloved, can never do Pope Shenouda justice. He left us an example of leadership that we should all follow,” a senior cleric said in an address to the congregation. “It is because of him that we have national unity with our Muslim brothers.”

During his 40 years as patriarch, Shenouda strove to ensure his place among the main players in this mainly Muslim nation, pressing demands behind the scenes while keeping Christians’ anger over violence and discrimination in check. It was a delicate balancing act.

Shenouda maintained a high media profile, giving interviews, speaking on key domestic and regional developments, and never allowing himself to show anger at times of crisis.

Egyptian authorities deny any discrimination, but Christians say it happens in numerous and subtle ways. Christians, for example, rarely assume leadership jobs on the police force, particularly the security agencies. The Islamist-dominated parliament has only a handful of Christians, and there are never more than one or two Christians among 30-plus Cabinet ministers.

As Egypt grew more religiously conservative over the past 40 years, the discrimination became more manifest in everyday life, particularly when Christians came into direct contact with government departments or enrolled their children at state schools, where Islamists often dominate teaching staff.

The pope, accustomed to the monastic traditions of Egypt’s unforgiving desert, had on occasion protested what he perceived to be gross injustices to his flock by living in seclusion for days or even weeks in remote monasteries. Although he publicly acknowledged that Christians were discriminated against, he never accepted that they be referred to as a minority, insisting that Copts were an integral part of the nation’s fabric.

“When he got upset and angry, he left the world behind and returned to his cave, where he spoke to no one for days except his secretaries,” said Father Wissa, one of the estimated 170 monks in St. Bishoy Monastery, a cluster of mudbrick structures.

“No one can replace him. God brought us this person at a time we were in need for someone like him. Now, at these difficult times, we need his wisdom the most.”

Bells tolled at the monastery, where thousands of the faithful, including women and children, had gathered since the early morning hours after all-night journeys from across the nation. Most of them were kept outside the monastery.

Loudspeakers broadcast excerpts of sermons the pope had delivered every Wednesday for decades, the strongest link between Shenouda and his flock. Military police cordoned off the area in the monastery’s courtyard where the helicopter carrying his body was due to land.

The ceiling of the burial chamber where Shenouda will be laid to rest is covered with a mosaic depicting Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and saints. The chamber has a large dome surrounded by smaller ones symbolizing open skies. The chamber has several small windows, big enough to let in a faint light.

The chamber was originally a small museum housing a collection of antiquities belonging to the monastery such as clay pots, the garments of the monastery’s early fathers as well as musical instruments. The collection was moved elsewhere after Shenouda expressed two months ago a desire to be buried in the monastery, Father Wissa said.

“If you wanted to know Jesus, Pope Shenouda was Jesus on earth. If you wanted to have a father, he was the most loving of fathers,” said a nun who traveled to the monastery from her nearby convent and refused to give her name. “It is because of him that I wanted to be a nun.”

Maggie Michael reported from the St. Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Natroun, Egypt.