CAIRO: Hundreds of clergy and officials packed St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo on Tuesday for the funeral service of Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died aged 88 after a long battle with illness.
Shenouda’s body, dressed in robes and a gold crown, lay in an open coffin as Coptic hymns filled the huge cathedral in central Cairo, where thousands massed outside to pay their respects.
The funeral prayers were led by the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abona Paulos, who flew in from Addis Ababa for the service.
“Because he is resting, does not mean we have lost him,” Abona Paulos said.
Clergy from around the world and officials, including ministers, MPs and public figures including prominent Coptic tycoon Naguib Sawiris, in tears, attended the service amid emotional scenes, aired live on television.
Crowds waited outside, some all night, for a chance to attend the service, which officials had said would be by invitation only.
At one point, the gate to the cathedral compound was opened, causing a stampede into the courtyard, as church officials scrambled to closed the doors again.
A day of national mourning was declared on Tuesday to mark the death of the leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian community.
Flags were flown at half mast around the country, and an unprecedented security plan has been put in place in the capital and in the Nile Delta province of Beheira where Shenouda will be buried in the 4th century St Bishoy Monastery.