Nov 5, 2012

In Islamist-led Egypt, Coptic Christians Name New Pope

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church chose a new pope, Tawadros II, in a sumptuous service on Sunday and Christians hope he will lead them through an Islamist-dominated landscape and protect what is the Middle East's biggest Christian community.

Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt's 83 million population, worry about political gains made by Islamists since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year. Radical Islamists have been blamed for attacks on churches several times since, but Copts have long complained of discrimination in Muslim-majority Egypt.

In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer, chants and incense at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the names of three papal candidates chosen in an earlier vote were placed in a wax-sealed bowl before a blindfolded boy picked out one name. Copts, who trace their church's origins to before the birth of Islam in the 7th century, believe this long-established selection process ensured worldly influences did not determine the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who led the church for four decades until his death in March at the age of 88.

"Pope Tawadros II is the 118th (leader of the church), blessed congratulations to you," said the interim Pope Bakhomious, who was dressed in gold-embroidered robes.

As he held the name aloft, the congregation in the packed cathedral applauded. The formal ceremony to install Bishop Tawadros, 60, as pope will take place on Nov. 18, a priest said.

Pope Shenouda was criticised by some Christians for being too close to Mubarak. Church analysts say he was partly prompted to take a strong advocacy role in Mubarak's era because many Christians withdrew from public life, complaining of discrimination, leaving the pope their main defender.

"Pope Tawadros faces different rules of the political game," said Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani. "Copts are now encouraged, and even encouraged by the church, to get out and participate in the political arena."

The new pope, bishop of a region in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, was shown on television praying at Pope Shenouda's tomb in a desert monastery in Wadi el-Natrun surrounded by priests. Bearded, bespectacled and in black priestly robes, Tawadros thanked God, praised his predecessor and said: "I carry love to all our brothers in Egypt," in comments broadcast on television.

Church experts said Tawadros, trained as a pharmacist before becoming a priest, had strong communication skills and called for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.


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