Egyptian Coptic mourners kiss a picture of the late Pope...

Egyptian Coptic mourners kiss a picture of the late Pope Shenouda III while gathering outside the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. (March 18, 2012) Credit: AP

WADI NATROUN, Egypt -- Pope Shenouda III, a giant figure for 40 years at the helm of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, was laid to rest yesterday in a desert monastery after a moving funeral Mass at a Cairo cathedral attended by tens of thousands.

Shenouda's death brought an outpouring of expressions of Muslim-Christian unity in this mainly Muslim and conservative Arab nation, but it may have done little to hide the alarm of Egypt's Christians over the political ascent of Islamists.

Away from the volatile sectarian politics of Egypt, the death of Shenouda united the nation's 10 million Christians in grief, alongside anxiety over the future.

Local clerics, visiting clergymen and dignitaries packed St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo as deacons chanted somber hymns and bearded, black-clad priests and monks recited prayers as incense smoke flowed from their censers. Shenouda's body lay in a white casket in the elaborate regalia he traditionally wore to oversee services, complete with an ornate golden crown.

Shenouda died Saturday at age 88 after serving for four decades as head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the world's oldest Christian denominations. Most of Egypt's Christians are Orthodox Copts.

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