Celebrating a Life

Yesterday, I represented Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a prayer service celebrating the life of Pope Shenouda III, who died on 17 March after leading the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than four decades.

I was warmly welcomed to the church of St. Mary in East Brunswick, New Jersey, by Bishop David, who leads the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese in North America, and by many priests of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which has a number of parishes in the New York metropolitan area. I was especially made to feel at home by the youth — young men and women devoted to the memory of their deceased pope. The church — filled with images of the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints — was overflowing, a testimony to the love and the leadership of this dynamic man of God.

In my remarks to the assembled faithful, I shared with them that, despite the reality of the dwindling numbers in our Christian families in the Western world, it was most uplifting to be present with so many committed young people.

I learned that in all things, Pope Shenouda III was a devoted father and teacher. “A church without the youth is a church without a future,” he once said. “And the youth without the church are a generation without a teacher.” Despite being responsible for millions of Coptic Christians scattered throughout the globe, he never ceased to give weekly lectures from the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, which drew millions of young men and women for decades.

The papacy of Shenouda III marked an unprecedented expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially in North America, where there are now more than 200 parish communities in Canada and the United States. He also ushered in a revival of catechesis, focusing on the formation of youths, and Christian monasticism, which began in the deserts of Egypt in the early fourth century.

Thank God for this loving servant of the church, and may the Lord bless the Coptic family, the spiritual sons and daughters of Shenouda III, and heal them in their time of grief.

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