CAIRO - In a rare meeting at the Heliopolis Presidential Palace, President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday met Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, ahead of the Christmas, Egypt's official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.
The meeting was held amid reported disappointment of the pontiff over the detention of around 140 Copts late last month, following an angry demonstration against an attempt to halt the construction of an unlicensed church in Omraniya Giza. The prosecutors have released 70 of them. "Pope Shenouda discussed all Coptic woes with the President," a Church source said on condition of anonymity. He added that the issue of the Omraniya church was one of the problems that the Pope brought to the attention of Mubarak at a meeting that exceeded an hour. In his latest two sermons, Shenouda was quoted as saying that the Coptic blood was not cheap, in reference to two demonstrators who were shot dead during the Omraniya violence, which also left dozens policemen injured. On Sunday, Shenouda, who had gone into retreat from public life following clashes involving Christians in the nation, ended his 'solitary period of contemplation' after an influential parliamentarian persuaded visited him in a northern monastery, The Gazette has learnt. Some hardline Christians called on the pontiff to cancel the Christmas celebration until after the Omraniya detainees are released. Mubarak has recently appointed seven Coptic members to the Parliament out of the 10 members he is constitutionally permitted to assign. Egyptian Christians, known throughout history as Copts, are the largest Christian minority in North Africa constituting around 10 per cent of the country's 80 million population. Later in the day, Mubarak met with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Minister of Civil Defence Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. No immediate details were available on the two meeting.