"The church is called the church of the martyrs because since the beginning of Christianity the Egyptian church has offered its children as martyrs," Pope Tawadros II began the funeral service held on Monday for the victims of the bomb blast at a church attached to the St. Marks Coptic cathedral in Cairo a day earlier.
“This is not a tragedy for the church alone but for everyone; for Egypt. We are grateful they left us while they were praying, so that their hearts are lifted to God at the best time,” he told dozens of relatives of those who lost their lives in the blast inside the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The attack left 24 people dead and 49 injured, mostly women and children.
“We are in pain, but we look up to heaven and thank God for choosing these people that preceded us to heaven. They were blessed to be chosen in the middle of prayers, while fasting on the most blessed day, Sunday, and the most blessed month, the beginning of the fourth Coptic month dedicated to Virgin Mary,” said Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
“God wanted to bless them by attending prayers not on earth but up in heaven with his chosen angels,” said the pope, addressing mourners at the Church of St. Mary and St. Athanasius in Nasr City, where the service was conducted.
As the pope uttered these words some women screamed in happiness, while some screamed in pain; others sobbed uncontrollably.
"Let's turn our screams into silent prayers; our pain is in our hearts, not our voices," responded the pope, ending his address before heading with mourners to the state funeral, which took place at the Unknown Soldier’s Memorial in Nasr City.
As the coffins carried the martyrs out of the church, sobs and tears could be heard, along with the sounds of the mourning drums played by the Church’s young scout troop.
Several women fainted, while others beat their own faces in a gesture of mourning, and screamed as policemen refused to let through those without an official invitation letter from the Church onto the buses transporting the mourners to the state funeral.
Among the mourners was Nora Sedky, 50. "I have no relatives in the explosion but I came as I couldn't just stay at home with all this pain,” she told Ahram Online. “It’s so sad and so scary,” she said.
“The state knows exactly what is going on, they know about threats of attacks beforehand; this is clearly a security failure," said the middle-aged woman.
The interview was interrupted by chants against the regime from dozens of protesters marching from church to state funeral.
"No, we are not against the regime; we stand with the regime because if it falls we will all fall. We just want them to protect us as we are in real danger," said Sedky, holding back her tears.
Sedky came early to attend the service, but like many others was not able to enter the church because she did not have a formal invitation. Instead, she joined those praying outside the police cordons.
Dozens of mourners who were not allowed into the church or the state funeral marched in Nasr City chanting: "With blood and soul we will protect the cross," and "we will avenge their rights or die like them."
The predominant chant was: "Oh Lord.”
Other protesters prayed outside the security cordon surrounding the streets leading to the path of the funeral as they were not allowed in.
Prayers were conducted in the Coptic language, still used by the Church for its liturgy, except for the words "have mercy upon us Lord."
The state funeral procession was attended by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and leading state officials.
State ambulances brought the coffins of the victims to the site of the procession.
Dozens of public transportation buses also took the victims' families to the site.
Mary Botros, 45, told Ahram Online that she came to mourn her daughter’s colleague in medical school, Nevine Adel, who died in the explosion on Sunday.
"She was only 19; I am here to mourn all my children, I wish it was me not them, although they are in a better place," added Botros, who was pleading with the security guards to let her in to say a final goodbye.
Ayman Nassef, a 35-year-old actor, was among the protestors; he told Ahram Online he had gone to the scene of the explosion on Sunday morning.
"As soon as I heard the news, I headed to the church. I arrived before the police and ambulances,” he said. “I saw a child cut in half, lots of blood and body parts everywhere; I don't know where my heart was as I stepped over body parts to try to rescue the living ones and get them out to ambulances.”
“We started taking body parts and remnants and putting them in plastic bags,” said Nassef. “Then the police arrived and they let us out.”
When Nassef and other marchers reached the last security cordon before the official funeral on Nasr Road they were not allowed in, and it was clear no one would get past the very high-level security.
Ahram Online heard the sirens and saw the ambulances as they rushed the coffins of the victims wrapped in the Egyptian flag to the site.
While journalists had been allowed into the church for the funeral service, only state TV crews were allowed to cover the state funeral procession.
In a speech after the state funeral, El-Sisi announced that the attack was carried out by a 22-year-old suicide bomber.
"Since yesterday the police have been gathering the scattered pieces of Mahmoud Shafiq Mohamed Mostafa," the president said, adding that four people have been arrested, including one woman, for alleged involvement in the incident, while two more were being pursued.
Later, the interior ministry announced that more suspects had been arrested.
Sunday’s attack is the biggest such assault on a church since the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on 1 January 2011 – an attack that killed over 20 people and injured around 100.
Christians make up between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt's 90-million population.
The largest Christian denomination in Egypt is Coptic Orthodox.