Obama grieves the death of Egypt's Coptic pope

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U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that he was saddened by the death of Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenuda III who died earlier in the day at the age of 89.

In a White House statement, Obama said that he was "saddened to learn of the passing of Coptic Christian Pope Shenuda III," calling him a "beloved leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians and an advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue."

Egyptian Christian Copts mourn the death of Pope Shenuda III in a massive funeral ceremony in Egypt, Cairo, March 17, 2011. Head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Shenuda III died on Saturday at the age of 89, state TV reported. [Xinhua]

"We stand alongside Coptic Christians and Egyptians as they honor his contributions in support of peace and cooperation," he said.

Obama, on behalf of all Americans, extended his thoughts and prayers to Coptic Christians and Egyptians, according to the statement.

The Coptic Patriarch died after fighting liver and lung problems for several years, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.

Church sources said the health condition of the pope deteriorated Saturday morning after suffering a severe heart attack. The pope's medical team tried to recover him but did not succeed.

The pope was born in 1923. He was enthroned as Pope Shenuda III, the pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the St. Mark in 1971. Coptic Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million.

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