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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3662

Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (20:11): I would like to join with other members of this place in expressing my condolences to the Australian Coptic Orthodox community on the passing of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria. Pope Shenouda had served as Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria since 14 November 1971, an exceptional period of time, presiding over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church. During his papacy, he appointed the first ever bishops to preside over the North American archdiocese—which now contains over 200 parishes in the United States, 23 in Canada and one in Mexico—as well as the first bishops in Australia and the first bishops in South America. In my own community, which I am proud to represent, within Mount Druitt there is a large and vibrant Coptic community who would be feeling this loss exceptionally deeply. The parishioners of Great Archangel Michael and the Perfect St Bishoy in Mount Druitt will remember fondly the many visits to their church by His Holiness. In fact, their beautiful church was consecrated by Pope Shenouda in November of 1989. He returned two years later to ordain the present parish priest, Father Antonios Kaldas.

Pope Shenouda's 40-year papacy achieved a great deal for the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was just as significant in building relationships with other faiths. He was a conservative figure within the church and was also respected within the Muslim community, who represent the largest faith group in Egypt. He maintained very good relations with Muslim leaders in Egypt and attended many Muslim summits, where he gave speeches. He was well versed in the Koran, often quoted from it when meeting with Muslims. Pope Shenouda was also known for his commitment to ecumenism and had long advocated interdenominational Christian dialogue. He devoted his writings, teachings and actions to spreading and propagating the rules of understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness. He was very much a nationalist and volunteered to serve in the Egyptian Army before his ordination. He openly argued with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who later exiled him. Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, provided Pope Shenouda with an amnesty, allowing him to return.

Sadly, as the Arab Spring gripped Egypt last year, his church and the flock he devoted 60 years to became the target for unjustifiable hate crimes, which I have spoken about in this place on a number of occasions. Members will no doubt remember the outrageous suicide bombing of an Egyptian church in January last year, as Orthodox Christians celebrated the new year. The attack on the Church of the Two Saints claimed 21 innocent lives. It was completely and utterly unacceptable that people, as they were celebrating their faith, were subjected to that violence. His presence among his people throughout this difficult time would have been comforting to his large church, not just in Egypt but throughout the world. His long and distinguished papacy represented stability and continuity for a church under threat. His passing will be deeply felt throughout the Christian world, but nowhere more than in his homeland of Egypt. To Copts everywhere and particularly those that I am proud to represent within the Chifley electorate, I offer my heartfelt condolence at his passing.

Debate adjourned.