A congregation in mourning
joined the crowds of mourners at Abbasiya Cathedral as they paid their last respects to Pope Shenouda III
Before being laid to rest in the Anba Bishoi Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun the body of Shenouda III, dressed in full papal regalia, was placed on the papal throne at St Mark's Cathedral in Abbasiya to allow his congregation a chance to bid their last respects to a man who led them with compassion and prudence for four decades.
The crowds that flocked to the cathedral caused traffic to come to a standstill. Army and police struggled to keep order after three mourners died in the crowed halls of the Cathedral. Others were taken away by ambulances.
Shenouda will be remembered fondly by many Muslims as well as Christians for his repeated efforts to defuse sectarian tensions.
Following the Pope's death on Sunday the three Coptic TV channels aired documentary films on the Pope and broadcast interviews. On Facebook hundreds posted images of the Cathedral and its surroundings.
Plainly dressed and clearly in distress as she waited among the crowds anxious to bid a final farewell to Shenouda, Umm Mervat said at first she did not believe the news of the Pope's death:
"I live next to the Cathedral so I went down myself and decided not to leave until I saw His Holiness's face for the last time. He was kind to us and had immense love."
Peter Magdi's family was watching television when they heard of the Pope's death. "The family was gathered, watching a comedy and laughing. Minutes later a relative came in and told us Pope Shenouda was dead. We all fell silent. True, the Pope was old and sick. But we love him and don't want him to be absent from our lives. He means a lot to us. We went every Wednesday to his lectures and learned a lot. He cheered us up in moments of sadness and he made hardship easier to bear. When he went away for treatment or retreated to the monastery we knew he would come back again and be with us. But this time he is not coming back... As soon as we heard the news we came straight to the cathedral. The place was so packed the doors to the Cathedral, big as they are, seemed small. Cries and shrieks blended with the sound of singing and prayers."
Children who saw the event on television often did not understand what was happening.
"When my three-year-old saw the Pope sitting on the chair with his eyes closed," recounts one mother, "he kept saying 'Noda [Shenouda] is asleep, wake up Noda'."
Donia Wagdi's six-year-old reacted differently: "I didn't want my daughter to see the Pope's body propped up on the chair. I thought it might frighten her. But I changed my mind and turned on the television. Farah, my daughter, started watching without saying a word. At first I assumed she couldn't figure out what was happening. But then she brought a pencil and a paper and started drawing what she saw. She loved the Pope and used to repeat his sayings even before she could speak properly."
Medhat Nessim contrasted the reaction of some members of the People's Assembly to that of the public.
"Let me tell you two things. Some parliamentarians refused to observe a minute's silence for the soul of the Pope. But real Egyptians, Muslims included, loved the Pope immensely. I came in a taxi and when the driver found out that I was coming to the Cathedral he offered his condolences and praised the Pope for his resilience and cheerfulness, and for opposing [Anwar El-] Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. The second thing I want to tell you is that the people who live around the Cathedral supplied the congregation with water throughout the day. This shows you how much respect this country has for the Pope."
On the day of the funeral thousands of Copts, many from outside Cairo, came to Abbasiya Cathedral before travelling on to Wadi Al-Natroun where Pope Shenouda had expressed his wish to be interred. Many were prevented from entering the Cathedral by the police, including -- according to reports -- the Japanese ambassador.
Hani Riyad was angered by the security cordon around the Cathedral. "This is ridiculous. The Pope was always with us and will always remain in our hearts. We will never forget his words: everything is for the best, nothing lasts."
Maspero Youth Union member Rami Kamel posted a blog criticising the decision to use the police to control crowds around the Cathedral.
"I know I must not cry for His Holiness," said Yasmine Henry. "The Pope is in a better place than we are now. He is in heaven with saints and martyrs and this is a beautiful thing. We are his children and he loved us all and we loved him back."