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Middle East

Egypt's Coptic Christians choose new pope

Bishop Tawadros, of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, to lead the Middle East's biggest Christian community.
Last Modified: 04 Nov 2012 10:49

The Coptic Orthodox church has chosen a new pope, Bishop Tawadros, to lead the Middle East's biggest Christian community.

In a sumptuous ritual filled with prayer, chants and incense on Sunday at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the 60-year-old bishop's name was picked by a blindfolded child from a glass bowl in which the names of two other candidates had also been placed.

They were Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.

Tawadros, of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, replaces Pope Shenouda III who led the church for four decades until he died in March aged 88.

Many Copts will look to the new pope to ensure that the voice of Christians, who have long complained of discrimination in Egypt, are heard.

Acting Pope Pachomios laid on Sunday the three names, already selected in a limited vote in church last week, in plastic balls inside the chalice before starting Mass.

He selected on Saturday 12 altar boys between the ages of five and eight, one of whom was ordered to pick the name during Sunday's ceremony.

Tawadros will be the 118th pope in a line dating back to the origins of Christianity and to Saint Mark, the apostle and author of one of the four Gospels, who brought the new faith to Egypt.

Nearly 2,500 Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors took part in the vote.

Sectarian fears

Strict measures were taken to ensure there was no foul play during the entire process, before a large congregation and televised. The three pieces of paper were all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in the box.

Shenuda, known as a careful, pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority, which has faced a surge in sectarian attacks after an uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo on Sunday, said that traditionally speaking, the Coptic pope in Egypt have kept a low profile "although Pope Shenuda III had been accused of being close to the Mubarak regime".

"Many hope the new pope will engage more on the political field because now the new constitution is being drafted, and they are hoping for a secular constitution," he said.

The Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle serves as the spiritual leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up between six and 10 per cent of the country's 83 million population.

Amid increased fears about the community's future after Mubarak's overthrow, Tawadros will be its main contact with Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

The rise of Islamists after the revolution has sparked fears among Copts of further persecution at home, despite Morsi's repeated promises to be a president "for all Egyptians".

In the latest incident, five Copts were injured in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo on October 28, security sources said.

The violence broke out when Muslim villagers tried to block access to the church as the Coptic faithful arrived for Sunday mass.

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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