Pope Shenouda the III of the Coptic Church died earlier today. He was the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He had recently been the focus of a great deal of international attention as Christians in Egypt were the focus of persecution during the events leading up to the Arab Spring uprising last year.
"Shenouda's death on Saturday at age 88 comes at a time when those worries are higher than ever among Egypt's estimated 10 million Coptic Christians, the main Christian community in the Muslim majority nation of 80 million. The fall a year ago of President Hosni Mubarak has brought increasing power to Islamic movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Salafis, who together won more than 70 percent of parliament's seats in elections.
Christian fears have been stoked by a series of recent attacks, starting with the suicide bombing of an Alexandria church during New Year's Mass in 2011 that killed 21 people. Since Mubarak's fall, several churches have been attacked by mobs, stoked in part by hard-line Islamic clerics warning that Christians were trying to convert Muslim women or trying to take over the country.
Christians accused security forces of doing little to find or punish those behind the attacks. There was a further uproar in the community when troops harshly put down a Christian protest in Cairo in October, killing 27 people.
The patriarch, known in Arabic as "Baba Shenouda," was viewed by many Copts as their guardian, a charismatic leader known for his sense of humor. His smiling portrait was hung in many Coptic homes and shops. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest in the work, tracing its founding to St. Mark, who is said to have brought Christianity to Egypt in the 1st Century during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero."
More details about his life and ministry here. Prayers of thanksgiving for his life and witness and for the people of his community as they mourn.