BRUSSELS: European Union leaders on Sunday paid tribute to Egypt’s Coptic Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, stressing his commitment to national unity.
“Pope Shenouda III was a respected and visionary leader of the region’s largest Christian community, who advocated tolerance, religious dialogue and harmony,” EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
She called for all the main political and religious leaders in Egypt to follow his commitment “to national unity, reconciliation and freedom of belief.”
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, described the Pope as “a respected national and religious leader who has always strived for freedom of religion and belief.
“The best tribute Egypt could pay to his memory would be to fully protect these rights and preserve national unity,” he added.
Shenouda led the Copts, estimated at 10 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million, for the best part of a generation.
He leaves behind a nervous community, a target of frequent sectarian attacks in recent years who complain of routine harassment and systematic discrimination and marginalization.