Egypt Coptic Christians
Egyptian Christian Copts mourn the death of Pope Shenouda III Reuters

Three people suffocated to death during the funeral procession for Coptic Pope Shenouda III in Egypt on Monday.

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in the Abbassiya section of Cairo to pay their respects to their spiritual leader, who was dressed in formal robes and seated on a chair inside St Mark's Cathedral. But the crush of the crowd in Cathedral Square sparked momentary chaos when a stampede on the church grounds resulted in the deaths of at least three people and injured more than 50 others.

The tragedy has not stopped the days-long funeral in the Egyptian capital. Before Shenouda is buried later this week -- an event that is expected to bring millions of people to Cairo -- Copts will attend a funeral mass and continue to wait to view the pope's body, according to Egypt's Ahram Online.

The funeral is expected to take place in two days, as massive preparations must take place first. It is a historical event and two million people are expected to attend the prayers. I don't expect violence though, Sheif Doss, head of the Egyptian General Coptic Association, told CNN.

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, 88, died on Saturday after battling prostate cancer and diabetes. Shenouda led the Coptic Orthodox Church and its 18 million worshipers -- the largest Christian community in the Middle East -- for four decades

He will be buried at St. Bishoy monastery of Wadi Natrun in the Nile Delta, where he was exiled by President Anwar Sadat in the early 1980s.

He was wise and was widely listened to. He will be missed at a time when we need wisdom and a patriotic spirit, said Egypt's tourism minister Munir Fakhry Abdelnur.

It's a great loss for Egypt.

With anywhere from eight to 12 million people in the country, Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Since the fall of the Hosni Mubarak-era, Shenouda has been guiding his flock through troubling, uncertain times. After a revolution that promised an open and free Egyptian society, the Copts have encountered violence and repression.

In the last week alone we have had a schoolteacher in upper Egypt sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly insulting the Prophet, Ihab Aziz, president of the Coptic American Friendship Society, told the Independent.

A priest was given six months for violating the building code. Copts are being targeted and defamed without state action.

The largest act of aggression against the Copts occurred in October. During a protest in Cairo against a string of anti-Christian attacks, armed government forces clashed with Copts, killing 24 people and wounding another 200. Since then, the government has denied discriminating against the religious group.

In the face of such adversity, Shenouda called for unity and reconciliation in Egypt.

His commitment to Egypt's national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together, U.S. President Barack Obama said of Pope Shenouda III's death.

Coptic bishops from around the globe are reportedly flocking to Cairo to start the process of choosing the pope's successor. Three bishops will be selected from the group and have their names written on pieces of paper. A blindfolded child, aided by the will of God, will then pick the next pope.

However, the selection of the three candidates is not always quick one, and the Copts could be without a pontiff for months. It took eight months for Shenouda to be named pope after the death of Cyril VI in 1971.

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the same ruling body that initiated the clashes in January, called for three days of mourning and excused Copts from work for the same period. The Copts have thanked the SCAF for the official recognition.