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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3656

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (19:43): I also rise tonight to pay tribute to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and obviously to express my sincere regret at his passing and convey my condolences to the Coptic community—in particular here in Australia but all over the world. His Holiness passed away on 17 March. He was the patriarch of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. He was the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria for four decades and he served in religious life for 60 years. He was much loved as a leader and as the head of his church. He was highly regarded for his work in re-energising the Coptic community across the world, and he was a strong advocate for peace. That strong commitment to peace saw him advocate never giving into sectarianism and he sought peace even in the most difficult of circumstances. He advocated unification in Egypt.

I had the privilege of meeting Pope Shenouda in 1993 on one of his many visits here to Australia. The Coptic church in Oakley was then in my electorate and together we opened the Coptic Village Hostel in Hallam. It was a partnership between the Commonwealth and the Coptic community and it was a recognition of that reaching out and that service delivery and that social dimension that he so strongly advocated. It was a joyous day and he was a wonderful person, a very friendly person, a very warm person, and clearly his flock followed him and loved him.

What struck me also about the Pope was his commitment to leading diaspora communities including Copts in Australia. He travelled widely and he in fact grew that diaspora significantly. I think under his reign from a handful of Coptic churches outside of Egypt, he grew it to over 150 and, as the previous speaker has indicated, in over 70 countries around the world. The Coptic community here in Australia has a rich cultural heritage which they have proudly carried forward.

I also recall his commitment to driving reform of the education system, both secular and religious. Under his leadership a number of Coptic educational institutions including schools and theological colleges were opened here in Australia. We have heard here in the chamber today that the Coptic community has lost a great leader and the Prime Minister in her words yesterday said, 'Like his flock, Pope Shenouda was an Egyptian patriot as well as a devout Christian. In his life, his claim for equal treatment of his flock was no more than the assertion of the rights that all Egyptians should experience.'

Here in Australia the Coptic leader, His Grace Bishop Suriel, said, 'He left his mark on the church and people. He got on well with Muslims, he was a great ascetic and a scholar. He wrote more than 120 books and some very beautiful poetry in Arabic.' His was a difficult life prior to taking up the leadership of church. He was as an ascetic a hermit, then he was imprisoned and then he led the church.

Here in Australia today Coptic Christians look to events in Egypt with anxiety. I think it is incumbent on all of us, in memory of his values and to his legacy, that the Australian community as friends of the Copts work with Egypt for peace. In the way in which he sought it, we too must seek it. We encourage a peaceful mourning process and hope that Pope Shenouda's legacy of peace continues. Again I offer my condolences to the Coptic community in Australia at this very sad time.