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Pope Shenouda, the controversial yet beloved head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, died Saturday after 40 years of leading and reforming the ancient Christian communion. His death complicates the uncertain position of Orthodox believers—who represent 90 percent of Egyptian Christians—now that Islamists have surged to leadership following Egypt's revolution last January.

Coptic Protestants respected and appreciated the pope.

"Shenouda was a pope of the Bible," said Ramez Atallah, head of the Bible Society of Egypt. "We are the fifth-largest Bible society in the world because [he] created a hunger for the Scriptures among Copts."

Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, described Shenouda's commitment to interdenominational understanding. "I have known him since before he was pope, and we served together on the Middle East Council of Churches. He would meet with us for hours and listen to our views."

Mina al-Badry, a young Protestant pastor in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, admits tensions with the Orthodox Church but echoed praises of Shenouda. "He was a wise man who cared for the whole Egyptian church [including Protestants and Catholics]," said al-Badry. "Yes, there were times of denominational fanaticism on both sides, but he was the celebrated picture of all of Egypt's Christians."

Shenouda was particularly appreciated for his handling of sectarian tensions, according to Ashraf Atta, a Pentecostal pastor and teacher of theology. "[He] had the wisdom to resolve conflict during times of persecution," said Atta. "He was always willing to forgive and walk the second mile."

Yet the biggest challenge facing the church today is in the realm of politics. Shenouda provided leadership for ...

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March 2012

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