By Yasmine Saleh and Tom Pfeiffer
CAIRO (Reuters) - Thousands of mourners dressed in black gathered in Cairo on Tuesday for the funeral of Egypt's Orthodox Christian Pope Shenouda, who spent his final years trying to comfort a community disturbed by the rise of political Islam.
Shenouda, who died on Saturday aged 88, promoted religious harmony, winning respect among the Muslim majority, but his last years witnessed a growth in sectarian tension that worsened with the overthrow of 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, a 52-year-old Christian Copt who heads an educational institute offering foreign languages courses.
Religious figures from several countries including a Catholic delegation from the Vatican and foreign ambassadors massed in the Orthodox Cathedral as long-bearded Coptic priests wearing bulbous black miters prayed over Shenouda's body lying in an open coffin, a golden miter upon his head and a gold-tipped staff in his hand.
A delegation from the ruling military council and several candidates for Egypt's upcoming presidential elections attended the funeral. Security was tight, with dozens of police and army trucks scattered around the cathedral and plainclothes police posted on bridges and in streets nearby.
The prayers were led by Bishop Bakhomious, head of the church of Bahaira, a district in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, who will temporally hold the post of pope for two months until a new leader is elected.
"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. "He was a decent Egyptian man who was also known for being very wise."
COMPLAINTS OF DISCRIMINATION
Egypt has seen less of the religious violence and discrimination that prompted members of ancient Christian communities to migrate from Iraq and other Arab countries.
But Coptic Christians, who comprise about a tenth of Egypt's 80 million people, have long complained of discrimination and in the past year stepped up protests, which included calls for new rules that would make it as easy to build a church as a mosque.
Shenouda strongly opposed Islamic militancy but strove to quell growing anger among Copts at Islamic extremism, attacks on churches and sectarian clashes often sparked by inter-faith romances and church building permits. Continued...