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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3252


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:20): I move:

House notes the death on 17 March 2012 of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, expresses its profound regret at his passing and records its deep admiration for the magnificent leadership he provided to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria during the period of his pontificate.

Pope Shenouda III has died in Egypt. This was the end of a long illness. It was also the end of a long life. He had served in religious life for 60 years. He was spiritual leader of his people for four decades. Many in the Australian community will fondly recall his several visits here over the years.

The Copts of Egypt occupy a precious place in Christian history. Their monasteries are the oldest in the Christian world and the traditions of Egypt's desert fathers long pre-date the monasticism of western Europe. Coptic Christians are the guardians of sites historically linked to the life of the holy family and the flight into Egypt. They worship at the ancient churches of old Cairo, like the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, the Church of Saint Barbara and the Church of the Virgin Mary. The eight million Coptic Christians in Egypt and millions more around the world have lost their patriarch at a most difficult time in the history. 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. The great Coptic community of Australia does look to events in Egypt with anxiety for their fellow faithful and the holy places and, for many of them, the plight of family members, too. I want them to know today that the Copts of Egypt are not without friends in the world or in Australia. The Australian government has reminded the Egyptian government of Egypt's own traditions of religious tolerance and we welcome the Egyptian government's stated commitment to maintaining their history of religious tolerance and inclusion.

One of Senator Bob Carr's first actions as foreign minister was to speak to Australia's ambassador to Egypt to ask him about the situation on the ground and send our regards to the Coptic community there on behalf of Australia. Australia's ambassador to Egypt has visited with the community in Egypt and attended a number of holy sites in recent times and only the severity of His Holiness's ill health prevented a recent meeting. We watch events there closely.

There is a funeral prayer, Life is changed, not ended, which expresses well the trust and expectation of the faith in which His Holiness died. On behalf of all Australians I offer my condolences to the Coptic community at this very sad hour.