In very emotional scenes thousands of mourners gather in Cairo cathedral to pay tribute to Pope Shenouda III, Egypt’s Coptic church’s spiritual leader since 1971.
Egypt’s Coptic Church began preparations on Sunday for the funeral of Pope Shenuda III and set in motion the process to elect a new patriarch for the Middle East’s largest Christian community, according to AFP.
Pope Shenouda who led the Copts, estimated at 10 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million had suffered health problems for years, travelling to the United States recurrently for treatment.
Shenuda’s death is “a grave calamity that has afflicted all Egypt and its noble people, Muslims and Christians,” the country’s mufti, Ali Gomaa, said in a statement.
Egypt’s Christians, a community who complains of harassment and systematic discrimination, are particularly concerned over the rise of Islamists, following an uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
Shenuda was placed under house arrest by former president Anwar Sadat for his outspoken criticism of Sadat’s courting of Islamists.
But he was supportive of Sadat’s successor, Mubarak, who was overthrown by a popular uprising more than a year ago which led to an Islamist-dominated parliament — the first in the country’s history.