(Yahoo News) - Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenuda III, spiritual leader of the Middle East's largest Christian minority, died on Saturday at the age of 88 after a battle with illness, leaving the country's Copts in mourning.
He had suffered health problems for years and recently stopped receiving treatment for liver failure and tumours or swelling in his lungs because he was too feeble, the Coptic Church said.
The pope's health deteriorated Saturday after he suffered "a severe heart attack", sources at the church told the official MENA news agency.
"The last days were the hardest in the Pope's life, as he was unable to walk," said a church statement carried by MENA.
Shenuda was forced to cancel a weekly sermon last week over health concerns.
A funeral will be held on Tuesday at the papal headquarters for Shenuda, who was named pope of Alexandria in 1971.
There was no word on when clergy and laity would convene to begin the process of choosing a successor.
At St. Mark's Cathedral in the central Cairo neighbourhood of Abassiya, thousands crushed through a small opening at the cathedral's gate as bells tolled.
Worshippers had been told the pope's body had been laid out for the night inside and believed they would get a chance to look at the corpse and get blessings.
On the street outside, riot police stood guard at a distance.
"He was the father of every young man, women, widows and the orphaned. We have had many crises, and he gave us wisdom throughout all of them," said Emil Esam, 28 outside the pope's offices.
Shenuda led the Copts, estimated at 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 80 million, for the best part of a generation, in which Egypt was hit by a wave of Islamic militancy from which he sought to protect his people.
Muslim leaders in the country almost immediately sent their condolences after news of his death broke.
Shenuda's death is "a grave calamity that has afflicted all Egypt and its noble people, Muslims and Christians," the country's mufti, Ali Gomaa, said in a statement.