This is a subject that I have tried avoiding these past days because it is a sensitive one, and because in discussing it, I would need to discuss, even if only tangentially, my attitude to religion or faith – a subject, which I hold to be of a very personal nature, and which, as a solid stance, I have made a point of never publicly discussing or making a statement thereof.
But I am moved to writing for a couple of reasons: I was a bit fazed by the grief, genuine sadness, like in the death of a close beloved relative, displayed by my own family; and I was surprised by my complete lack of empathy. I shamefully admit to my obnoxious inability to graciously accept the condolences or kind words of sympathy about the passing patriarch by well-meaning acquaintances who assume some sense of mourning or loss on my part, or the expressions of grief and mourning by my family, without making a statement of my indifference.
I left church (in which I was never really an active member) and the faith in which I had been brought up since the age of 17, a position I revisited a number of times since only to find it firmly confirmed. I questioned the faith, I rejected the practices of an organized religion, the dogma and indoctrination, and the often sexist, patriarchal, conservative institution that stands behind it with its teachings of unquestioning reverence and obedience, I completely disassociated myself from a congregation that ascribes to these values and that is more often than not adamant to and condemning of any forms of diversity or critique. And for as long as I remember, the Pope has come to be merely the embodiment of that institution, a dehumanized symbol. Undeniably, the Pope’s apparent humility, his wit and sense of humor were admirable, charming even; and many stories attest to his benevolence and kindness – however, I was never able to divorce his person from his position, from the institution he stands for. His non-progressive stances on civil issues like divorce (admittedly a nonnegotiable tenet of religion to people of faith) and politics only made him even less popular to me. I was unable to mourn the Pope, or to accept the notion that I should be.
As the Copts and Christians of Egypt mourn the person and guide and guardian they have loved, revered, and followed for the past 42 years, I feel as far removed as ever from the people or community or group of society to which I officially belong; and shrouded in the insensitivity of this detachment, I hope that despite of their grief and anxiety at the loss of their leader, the Copts will see in it an opportunity to examine and question their view of themselves within their country, their definition of their identity, their relationship to the church. The death of the Pope comes at a momentous crossroads in Egypt’s history, and I hope that in their loss, and, rather than vesting their hopes and confidence in a new Pope to guide and protect them, Egypt’s Copts will instead actively seek their empowerment beyond the confines of the church and its head, that they will rally around the dream for change, around the vision of an Egypt that is diverse, inclusive, tolerant, and just for all its citizens. No Pope came close to realizing that for them, it’s about time they tried with the rest of us for themselves.