Egypt's Coptic Christians Mourn Their Pope's Death

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Egypt's Coptic Christians are mourning the passing of their leader, who died Saturday.

Pope Shenouda III, 88, is believed to have suffered from cancer. He led the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than 40 years and tried to protect the rights of the minority Christians in a country that is prone to persecution by Muslims.

Ihab Aziz, president of the Coptic American Friendship Association, left his home in Washington state and returned to Egypt a year ago to fight for the inclusion of Coptic rights in the northern African country.

"Every Copt is asking the other, 'What are we going to do now? How are we going to survive? Are they going to cleanse us from this country because this wise man is no longer here?'" Aziz told the Seattle Times.

Members of the Coptic community held Shenouda in high regard.

"I've always looked up to Pope Shenouda, like my godfather. I could disagree with my biological father but not with the late pope," said Nabil Kamal, a 46-year-old engineer from Cairo.

"His opinions about religion and various aspects of life were like sacred orders to me and many Copts," he added. "It was not just because he was our pope, but rather because he made sense and was convincing in pretty much everything he said or did."

Egypt's Coptic Christians number about 8.2 million strong, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

Church officials announced Sunday that Bishop Pachomious would serve as the church's interim leader until a new pope is chosen. The process of selecting a new pope could take up to two months.

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