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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3652

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (19:23): I rise with great sorrow to express my deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the Coptic people in this time of sadness, for the loss of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the See of St Mark and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. I rise on this day of His Holiness's funeral and I do so with the most heavy of hearts. 17 March 2012 will mark a date when the world lost an inspirational figure and those of the Coptic faith lost their internationally respected and long-serving spiritual leader, Pope Shenouda III. Over his four-decade reign, Pope Shenouda faced challenges of ongoing persecutions against the followers of his faith, particularly in the latter half of his time leading the Coptic Church of Alexandria, when violence against his people escalated, particularly since the recent Egyptian revolution. Against the backdrop of violence toward his people, the pope had been a bulwark of strength and determination. He provided an inspirational symbol of hope and tolerance at a time when it was most needed.

His elevation in 1971 made Pope Shenouda III the 117th Coptic pope in a continuous line since St Mark the Apostle. He was a widely respected figure who dedicated himself to all his people. In a part of the globe routinely marked by division and hostility his leadership stood above others in the region and he is respected for leading a dialogue based on the promotion of harmony and peace across religious divides in a country often ravaged by the same divisions as its neighbours. Indeed, President Barack Obama has put it this way:

His commitment to Egypt's national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together.

Pope Shenouda was widely respected on all sides for his strident efforts to maintain peace and to make peace where necessary. His values of harmony through negotiation and cooperation meant his standing was widespread, both among the Egyptian military and the Islamic majority.

Here are just a few examples of his leadership in peace. During his reign Pope Shenouda had quarrelled bitterly at times with the previous Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. He complained about growing Islamic radicalisation and how he saw Anwar Sadat's insufficient action on those issues. Sadat took the step of actually deposing the pope and forcing him into internal exile in a remote Coptic monastery, St Bishoy, in the desert between Cairo and Alexandria. On 2 January 1995 the new President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, reversed his predecessor's decree and Pope Shenouda came back to Cairo to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on 7 January of that year. When he went to the pulpit to give his much awaited sermon after the exile imposed upon him he spoke how the Copts were one part of the Egyptian nation. He was explicit about maintaining good relations with the Muslims. He said:

All Copts open their hearts to their brothers, the Muslims. We feel they are our flesh and our blood in this beloved nation.

In another example, following the recent bombing of 1 January when 21 Coptic Christians were killed in Alexandria and the Coptic community took to the streets of Cairo protesting, again it was Pope Shenouda who was the symbol of peace and stability. He said:

I plead with our sons to calm down. There are many demands, but this is not the way to ask for them.

In the year 2000 he was a well-deserving recipient of the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. But among his people he was so much more. For the Coptic people Pope Shenouda was a father to all. Many struggle to remember a time when he was not a comforting figure looking out for them in the recent hostile times. Under the reign of Pope Shenouda the Coptic Church has expanded its reach, providing support for the Coptic Diaspora in all corners of the world, including the USA, the UK, Canada, France and other European nations, as well as here in Australia. In Australia Pope Shenouda ordained the first Coptic bishops for Australia, His Grace Bishop Suriel of the Diocese of Melbourne and affiliated regions in 1999 and His Grace Bishop Daniel of the Diocese of Sydney and affiliated regions in 2002.

Also during this time three Coptic schools were established in Australia. The electorate of Hughes, which I represent, is blessed to have St Mark's Coptic Orthodox College firmly rooted as an important part of our community. It is located in Wattle Grove. His Holiness Pope Shenouda last visited our shores in 2002, and he visited St Mark's in my seat of Hughes. Many in my electorates still remember his visit with such fond memories. They recall the care and interest His Holiness showed to each and every one of those who came before him. They recall the wisdom that he spoke and the love he had for everyone, both within and outside of his faith.

It has been said that Pope Shenouda was a man of great humour. Monika Mikhail from the Australian Coptic Movement put it eloquently when she described His Holiness as 'a beautiful soul, a man who loved to laugh; there will never be another Pope Shenouda III.' Pope Shenouda was truly a man of peace. No one who came into his presence could claim not to be moved by his words and deeds. But these personal experiences are not unique. Pope Shenouda was a guiding force for his people—a respected and wise leader who served as Shepherd, in all senses of the word. He was a protector, he was a carer, he was a senior role model with no equal; he was a great man of the modern age.

He delivered the strongest leadership in a time where his people have faced the toughest challenges in their history. His passing has been marked by extreme sorrow among his followers. Tens of thousands of mourners converged on St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo last Sunday our time, lining up for the opportunity to bid farewell to the man they have revered, as their Pope and spiritual guide, for more than 40 years. The world has lost a man of immense wisdom, character and spirit. As the people who inhabit the globe, we are less for him no longer being with us.

Within the hour, the funeral for the Pope will be held at St Bishoy monastery in the Nile Delta, where he spent his years in exile under the then reign of President Sadat. When eight o'clock comes around, I along with my friends in the Australian Coptic community will stop to reflect on this great man's life and feel at once both saddened and joyful for what His Holiness achieved and for what he has given the world in his extraordinary life. Thrice blessed His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.