Egypt's Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III has died of natural causes at age 88 after leading his community through four decades of quiet expansion, al-Jazeera reports. A religious leader of some 8 million people—about 10% of Egyptians—Shenouda was a fighter for Coptic rights in his early years but mellowed later on, striking a conciliatory tone even when sectarian violence increased. Finally, after a Coptic protest was brutally dispersed last October, Shenouda spoke out against the violence.
"These martyrs are our beloved children and their blood does not come cheap," he said. Shenouda was feistier in the 1980s, standing up for Coptic rights and receiving more than three years in exile for his efforts. When he returned under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, Shenouda emphasized dialogue and unity between churches around the world. Whoever replaces him faces a daunting task, reports the BBC—of reassuring Coptics as Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood appear on the verge of sharing power. (Read more Coptic Church stories.)