Pope Shenouda III, the charismatic patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt for four decades, who expanded its presence worldover and worked to keep peace between the Christians and Muslims at home, has died at the age of 88 after battling liver and lung problems for years.
The Pope died on Saturday, amid rising fears for Egypt’s 10 million Coptic Christians, who feel increasingly vulnerable in the wake of attacks on churches by hard-line Islamists after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
The health of the spiritual leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian minority deteriorated on Saturday after he suffered “a severe heart attack”, the official MENA news agency reported quoting church sources.
“The last days were the hardest in the Pope’s life, as he was unable to walk,” it said, citing a church statement.
Tens of thousands of Christians gathered at the main Coptic cathedral here on Saturday evening, hoping to see his body.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has announced a state of mourning, adding that it will start the burial sermons after the arrival of all the bishops of the Coptic Church from all over Egypt and abroad.
According to the Coptic Church’s regulations on choosing a new pope, nearly 2,000 Coptic clergymen and public figures will convene within a week to start the elections process.
Egypt’s ruling military council and the grand Mufti of Al-Azhar condoled the demise.