Egypt's Coptic Christians have learnt who is to be their new leader after a blindfolded altar boy, believed to be directed by God, chooses one of three names out of a box.
Acting Pope Pachomios laid on Sunday three names, already selected in a limited vote in church last week, in plastic balls inside the chalice before starting Mass in Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral.
They were: Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.
He selected on Saturday 12 altar boys between the ages of five and eight, one of whom he will order to be blindfolded during Sunday's ceremony.
The new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle will succeed Pope Shenuda III, who died in March leaving behind a community anxious about its future under an Islamist-led government.
He 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 councilors already voted to select three finalists from an original group of five to succeed Shenuda, who died at the age of 88 after four decades on the papal throne.
They are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.
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 president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said that traditionally speaking, the Coptic pope in Egypt had kept a low profile "although Pope Shenuda 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 serves as the spiritual leader of the country's Coptic Christians, who make up between six and 10 per cent of Egypt's 83 million population.
Amid increased fears about the community's future after Mubarak's overthrow, the new pope 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.
Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies