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Christians gather to bid farewell to Egypt's Pope Shenouda III

Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

A Coptic Christian mourns the death of Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of the Middle East's largest Christian minority on March 18.

Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

An Egyptian Christian Copt mourns the death of Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Middle East's largest Christian minority, in Saint Mark Cathedral in Cairo.

Christians gathered on Sunday to pay final respects to Pope Shenouda III, who sought to soothe sectarian tension in his four decades atop Egypt's Orthodox Church but saw increasing flare-ups in the majority Muslim nation in the last months of his life.

Friction has worsened since President Hosni Mubarak, who suppressed Islamists, was ousted last year. Since then Shenouda, who died on Saturday aged 88, often called for harmony and regularly met Muslim and other leaders.

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 had served as the 117th Pope of Alexandria since November 1971, leading the Orthodox community who make up most of Egypt's Christians. His funeral will be held on Tuesday, Egyptian state media reported. 

-- Reuters contributed to this blog post

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Esam Omran Al-Fetori / Reuters

Egyptian Christians gather to mourn the death of Pope Shenouda III, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, outside the Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo on March 18.

Ammar Awad / Reuters

A Coptic Christian priest holds candles next to a picture of Egyptian Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on March 18.