Funeral for Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria held in Cairo

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria in 2009
Image: Chuck Kennedy.

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, the leader of Egypt's Coptic Christian church, has died at the age of 88. His funeral was held at a packed St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo today.

It is because of him that we have national unity with our Muslim brothers.


The mass featured hymns, prayers and incense-burning as crowds in and outside the cathedral paid their respects. A large police presence watched over the scenes as mourners wept. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, presently leader of Egypt, has made today a day of mourning. The Coptic Church is among the world's oldest and traces its roots to St Mark in the first century.

Shenouda spent 40 years as pope to the Coptics, who make up the majority of the nation's estimated ten million Christians. Much of this time was spent pacifying his followers in the wake of violence and perceived discrimination, whilst working with the majority Muslims. He spent three years exiled in the cathedral after claims of sectarian troublemaking from then-President Anwar Sadat in 1981. He was freed by Hosni Mubarak in 1985. With Mubarak gone, many Copts are concerned that Islamist political parties gaining new influence could mark a time of trouble for their religion.

"He left us an example of leadership that we should all follow," a cleric told the congregation at the fourth-century cathedral. "It is because of him that we have national unity with our Muslim brothers."

Traffic was congested around the cathedral, which the pope remained fond of, while services were ongoing today. Shenouda was dressed in full regalia, complete with a gold crown. His body was taken to a military airfield and was to be taken to desert monastery St Bishoy for burial.

Tributes have been paid to Pope Shenouda as thousands of people mourned his death. President of the United States Barack Obama said in a statement "We will remember Pope Shenouda III as a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation... His commitment to Egypt's national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together."