Funeral of Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenouda held in Cairo

The funeral of Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III took place in St Mark's Cathedral, Cairo on 20 March, three days after he died aged 88.

Following his death, thousands of Coptic Christians queued to pay their respects to their spiritual leader, whose robed body had been lying in state in the cathedral. During the funeral tens of thousands of mourners stood outside a thronged church and watched the service on a giant television screen.

Pope Shenouda was the 117th pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St Mark, and led Egypt’s Copts since 1971. Egyptian Copts, who number almost 12 million and make up about ten per cent of the country's population, are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

The pope’s death comes amid rising sectarian tension and attacks suffered by his church’s followers, many of whom are concerned about the rising power of Egypt’s Islamists since the fall of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak over a year ago.

Pope Shenouda frequently fought for the rights of Christians and was known for his deep conservatism and commitment to ecumenism. Although he was considered by many to be a calming influence in turbulent times, he also brought an outspoken political aspect to his role.

He is remembered for his hard line stance against Israel and for forbidding Egyptian Copts from going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Outside Egypt, Pope Shenouda presided over a global expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, appointing the first-ever Coptic bishops in North American dioceses – that now contain over 200 parishes – as well as appointing the first bishops in Australia and South America.
Political and religious figures around the world have paid tribute to Pope Shenouda, with US president Barack Obama praising his advocacy of “tolerance and religious dialogue”. Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) expressed its hope that his wish of "preserving the unity of Egypt and the unity of its social fabric" would be achieved.

It is not known when Pope Shenouda’s successor will be elected. Sources close to the church say that its senior leaders might wait until Egypt’s new president is sworn in – scheduled for 1 July – before electing the next Coptic Pope.

Pope Shenouda III (1923-2012) is buried at the fourth-century St Bishoy monastery in the Nile Delta in northern Egypt. Shenouda spent three years at the desert monastery after being exiled there in 1981by then-president Anwar Sadat, who accused the patriarch of fomenting sectarian strife. Sadat's successor, Mubarak, released the pope in 1985.