The recent passing and todays funeral of Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III has gotten me thinking about the time I covered his visit to Ambridge, Beaver County 5 years ago.

At the time, I was a staff photographer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  The Trib’s middle east correspondent Betsy Hiel and I headed up to Ambridge to do a story on the consecration of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Ambridge – the only Coptic church in the region.

As a news photographer you’re always fighting for unrestricted access to your subjects.  It seems that the more important or high-ranking the person is, the harder that fight becomes.  Their handlers often want to control your access in order to ensure that their boss is portrayed in the best possible light.  The classic example is a presidential rally – it’s a highly choreographed affair with the photo areas pre-determined.  So, when I asked the folks in charge of the event at St. Mary’s if I could get closer I was pleasantly surprised when they invited me up next to the altar with Pope Shenouda!

After the ceremony, Betsy had an exclusive interview with Pope Shenouda.  I came along to take some more photos.  He was a truly gracious and thoughtful man.  That fact is illustrated by the outpouring of praise and shared grief from the Muslim community in Egypt and religious leaders from around the world.

Here are some of my favorite photos from that day:

Pope Shenouda III arrives:

Everybody had a camera – priests, worshippers and even the altar boys!

Pope Shenouda III and priests consecrate the altar by rubbing oil on to the marble surface of the altar:

A woman touches Pope Shenouda III as he walks through the church:

A priest blesses a portrait of Christ during the ceremony: