Tuesday, 20 March 2012 00:00
Federal Member for Melbourne
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:17): On 17 March the Coptic community in Egypt and the world lost a beacon of religious tolerance. Pope Shenouda III passed away, aged 88. He had been the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria for 40 years. Prime Minister Gillard said yesterday:
'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.
Pope Shenouda III
In the most recent troubled times His Holiness remained a light to the Coptic community and to Egypt, promoting peace and unity over division despite unwarranted and violent attacks on his ancient community' (To read the Prime Minister's comments in full, click here). The tributes that have flowed for this man have included that from the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who said:
'We will remember Pope Shenouda III as a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation. 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'.
The Coptic community represents 10 to 15 per cent of the 80 million people of Egypt. It is the largest Christian community in the Middle East—some people would say 'left in the Middle East' after what has been unfortunately happening to the Christians of Iraq. The Copts are a link to ancient Egypt. The Coptic language is the last remnant of the language of Pharaonic hieroglyphs. Their culture and traditions predate Islam.
Let us remember the internal conflict that has consumed Egypt over the past decade. The attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt have caused enormous tension between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Pope Shenouda III could have gone down the path of division. He could have chose the path of retribution and revenge. But, as a man of great faith and peace, he preferred peace and accord. He chose to believe and to encourage the better of his fellow citizens. He believed that he was the keeper of his brothers and sisters. We remember last New Year's Eve in Egypt, when the Coptic community came together at al-Qiddissin or Saints Church in Alexandria, one of the most famous Coptic churches in Egypt, to celebrate the coming of the new year. We remember how that celebrating church community was ripped apart by a terrible explosion, set off by a jihadist suicide bomber, killing 22 men, women and children and injuring 98 people. It is particularly shocking to attack people in the middle of religious services. I think those people who were killed on that occasion, just like the poor Iraqi Christians who were blown up at mass along with their priest while they were at prayer, show that these jihadists have no religious beliefs and no faith. In fact, I agree with the many Islamic scholars who say that these people are the antithesis of faith and indeed of Islam. We remember the consequences of this violence in Egypt that stretched beyond the borders of Egypt, even to here in Australia. Four Coptic churches in Australia were listed among 64 worldwide as al-Qaeda targets.
Despite Egypt having seen the worst—the slaughter and merciless killing of men, women and children at prayer—Pope Shenouda III choose to see and bring forth the best in his people. In his desire to unify his Egypt, his nation and his Coptic community, Shenouda III made an unprecedented move, joining with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the generals of the ruling military, amongst others, for the Orthodox Christmas services in January at the cathedral that had been so savagely attacked by the forces of hatred. His words at the service were indicative of the way that His Holiness lived his life. This is what he said:
For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt," Shenouda told the gathering. They all agree … on the stability of this country and on loving it, working for it and working with the Copts as one hand for Egypt's sake
He believed that the path ahead was not division and more bloodshed. He believed that the future of the nation should be sown with Egyptians facing internal struggles together. Our Prime Minister said yesterday:
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.
This parliament has many times, not just in this condolence motion, shown its affirmation of those principles. We, like other Western countries, will be keeping a very keen eye on events in Egypt. So while Egypt negotiates around the precipice of division, which has been opened by these terrible acts of the jihadists, and is faced with the rising elements there—even while Egypt tries to emerge towards democracy—one can hope and pray that Pope Shenouda III's legacy of peace and accord remains at the forefront of Egypt's national psyche and its future. I particularly pay my condolences to His Grace Bishop Suriel, the Coptic Bishop of Melbourne, and to the various Coptic ministers who I have worked with very strongly over the last year and a half to show the wider Australian community's support for the Copts in Egypt. I particularly also mention my friends Peter and Lydia Khalil and their families, who are members of the Coptic community and who are in need of condolence over the death of Pope Shenouda III at 88, after 40 years of service to the Coptic Church.
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