Copts mourn: funeral of Pope Shenouda

Wed, Mar 21, 2012, 00:00

CAIRO –Thousands of mourners packed Cairo’s main cathedral yesterday for the funeral of Pope Shenouda, who spent his final years trying to comfort a Coptic Orthodox community disturbed by the rise of political Islam in Egypt.

Shenouda, who died on Saturday aged 88, promoted religious harmony, winning respect among the Muslim majority. But his last years were marked by a growth in sectarian tension that worsened with the overthrow of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year.

“I can’t tell you how much sorrow I have inside me. This was a great, great man and it will be hard to find anyone like him again,” said Ivon Mosaed (52), a Christian Copt who heads an educational institute offering foreign languages courses.

Religious leaders from across the world, including a delegation of senior Catholics from the Vatican, joined thousands of Copts in the Orthodox Cathedral.

Long-bearded priests wearing bulbous black mitres prayed over Pope Shenouda’s body, which lay in an open coffin, a golden mitre on his head and a gold-tipped staff in his hand. A uniformed delegation from Egypt’s ruling military council and several candidates for the upcoming presidential elections attended the funeral.

Security was tight, with dozens of police and army trucks outside and plainclothes police posted on bridges and in streets nearby.

Prayers, conducted in Egypt’s ancient liturgical Coptic language that predates the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, were led by Bishop Bakhomious, head of a church district in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, who will hold the post of pope for two months until a new leader is elected.

The repeated prayers of mourners echoed around the cathedral’s tall, white nave adorned with gleaming gold icons. Some wept, including billionaire Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris, an outspoken critic of Islamic radicalism.

“I am so sad of course and many of my Muslim relatives are sad as well,” said Muslim university student Iman, who was dressed in black and wearing a black veil as she stood in a throng of mourners outside the cathedral. “He was a decent Egyptian man who was also known for being very wise.”

Pope Shenouda’s body was driven away to a military air base and was due to be flown to the Wadi el Natrun desert monastery northwest of Cairo, where he spent several years of prayer, contemplation and abstinence and had asked to be buried. – (Reuters)