An Open Letter to His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III

Nermien First Briefs His Holiness Pope Shenouda Nearly a Decade Ago

Your Holiness,

I’ve been following your funeral “live” as it was broadcast around the world today. To say that we miss you is somehow not enough. Perhaps because of Egypt’s turmoil, the loss of your earthly presence hurts even more.

I remember our meeting so well almost 10 years ago, when I first came to brief you on the work of Coptic Orphans.

I thought you would ask about practical things: “What are your financial practices?” “What is your working relationship with the church hierarchy?” Instead, you zeroed right in on the children.

You grilled me for a good half hour just on the plight of orphaned children. “If they are in an orphanage,” you asked (assuming at first–like many–that we are an orphanage), “what happens to them when they get older? Are they out on the streets like most children who come out of orphanages with no connections?”

These were the same questions I had asked when Coptic Orphans began. They led me right into the homes of widows from which most children end up in orphanages. Our tireless volunteers have been visiting those homes ever since.

Your insightful questions revealed a personal understanding, because you had been orphaned yourself of your dear mother when you were just a baby. In your suffering, Your Holiness came to know God as “the father to the fatherless.” (Psalm 68:5) And then, in 1971, Your Holiness became a father to Egypt.

I will never forget what Your Holiness said to me at that meeting. “You remember those who have no one to remember them.” We took those words and made it our mission. Even today we are working so Egypt’s fatherless will come to know the presence of God the Father through education, the loving care of mentors, the basics of food, water and shelter, and the dignity that comes through work for their widowed mothers.

You have departed this life, but we continue to ask for your holy intercession for Egypt.

At the very end of your life, you left all your children with this message:

I ask my beloved children, love one another with a true love. I ask you my beloved, do good with all humanity.

Your Holiness, I promise you that I will always do so, and so will all of the volunteers, sponsors, donors, and staff of Coptic Orphans. In your honor, we will “remember those who have no one to remember them,” and help all we meet do the same.

Question: Do you have memories of His Holiness? Share them in the comments below.

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn’t afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don’t have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.