Egypt prepares for Coptic pope’s funeral

Egypt prepares for Coptic pope’s funeral

Egypt prepares for Coptic pope’s funeral

The body of Pope Shenouda III, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, is displayed for public viewing inside the Abassiya Cathedra in Cairo on March 18. AP photo

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church began preparations yesterday for the funeral of Pope Shenouda III, who died on March 17 aged 88 after a long battle with illness.

Shenouda had served as the 117th Pope of Alexandria since November 1971, leading the Orthodox community who make up most of Egypt’s Christians.

Thousands of Christians queued in Cairo’s Abbasiya district overnight and yesterday morning at the cathedral where Shenouda’s body was initially laid in a coffin and later seated on a ceremonial throne wearing gold and red embroidered religious vestments, a golden miter on his head and holding a gold-topped staff.

Based on wishes stated in his will, Shenouda will be buried at the St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi Natrun in the Nile Delta, where he spent his time in exile after a dispute with late president Anwar Sadat, state media reported. 

Bishop Pachomious of the Nile Delta province of Beheira has taken over papal duties for two months until a council of senior clergy meet to choose a new pope, state television said. Coptic Bishops from around the world have already started to fly in to attend meetings over the funeral and plan for Shenouda’s succession. U.S. President Barack Obama offered his condolences and Pope Benedict, leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, offered prayers after being informed of his death.

The spiritual leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, who comprise about a tenth of Egypt’s 80 million people, had suffered health problems for years, travelling to the United States frequently for treatment. Recently he stopped receiving treatment for liver failure and tumors or swellings in his lungs because he was too feeble, the Coptic Church said.

He leaves behind a nervous community, a target of frequent sectarian attacks in recent years, who complain of routine harassment and systematic discrimination. Friction has worsened since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.