New Coptic pope selected in Egypt
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church held a sumptuous service today to choose its
new pope, Bishop Tawadros, who Christians hope will help them navigate an
Islamist-dominated political landscape and protect what is the Middle East's
biggest Christian community.
In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer, chants and incense
at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the names of three candidates chosen in a
vote were placed in a wax sealed glass bowl.
A blindfolded child later pulled the winner's name out at random.
Bishop Tawadros, a 60-year old who qualified as a pharmacist before entering
the priesthood, was the eventual winner.
The two other candidates were Bishop Rafael, a 54-year old who qualified as
a doctor before entering the priesthood, and Father Rafael Afamena, a
70-year old monk who studied law before entering the priesthood.
Copts believe this long-established selection process ensures that worldly
influences do not determine the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who led the
church for four decades until he died in March aged 88.
Many Christians in Egypt, who make up about a tenth of the population of 83
million, are worried by political gains made by Islamists since Hosni
Mubarak was ousted last year. They have long complained of discrimination in
"We pray that our Lord chooses a good shepherd," interim Pope Bakhomious,
who has temporarily held the post since Shenouda's death, said in his
gold-embroidered white robes after placing the names in the bowl and sealing
it with hot red wax.
"We are all witnesses before the Lord," he told the congregation in the
packed cathedral in the centre of Cairo, where priests swung censers that
wafted incense into
Voters whittled the candidates down to three from a field which included
leading members of the church, public figures and a handful of
representatives of the Ethiopian Church, which has historic links to the
church in Egypt.
That ballot was held last week. Echoing the worries of many of Egypt's
Copts, shopkeeper Michael George said before the service: "Christians fear
the Islamists' rule especially because their presence is encouraging
radicals to act freely."
Since Mubarak was ousted, there have been several attacks on churches by
radical Islamists. Those incidents have fuelled longstanding complaints that
Christians are sidelined in the workplace and in law.
Rules that make it harder to obtain official permission to build a church
rather than a mosque have added to those fears.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist movement that propelled
president Mohamed Mursi to power, has sworn to guard therights of Christians
in the overwhelmingly majority Sunni Muslim nation.