Senior clerics in the Egyptian Orthodox Church have led a funeral Mass for Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who was remembered for promoting harmony between religions in the Muslim-majority country.
Thousands of people gathered in Cairo on Tuesday to mourn the death of Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who led the country's Orthodox Christian community for 40 years.
Senior figures in the church led the funeral Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral, as deacons chanted hymns, recited prayers and burned incense. Many congregants wept, while tens of thousands more followed the service from outside the cathedral.
"I ask you to preserve peace," said Bishop Pefnotios, reading out a letter written by Shenouda before his death. "I ask Jesus to send you a good patron, to settle your needs and watch over the salvation of your souls."
Visiting dignitaries also attended the service, including Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
"He had completed all that he had been called for," Paulos said. "He lived a good, true life, now he is resting."
Keeping the peace
Shenouda died on Saturday at age 88, and Egypt's military ruler Mohamed Hussein Tantawi declared Tuesday a national day of mourning. After the memorial service, Shenouda's body was to be buried at the St. Bishoy monastery in the desert northwest of Cairo.
Christianity in Egypt predates the arrival of Islam, and most of the country's estimated 10 million Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Tensions between the two religions have risen since the uprising last year that ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Egyptian media has reported that board members of the church's local councils would vote to elect three candidates to take Shenouda's place. The final leader is to be chosen by a young child picking a name out of a hat. The process could take months to be completed.
acb/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)