Bishop Tawadros is Egypt's new Coptic pope



Cairo: Egypt's ancient Coptic Christian church on Sunday elected Bishop Tawadros as its new Pope when a blindfolded altar boy picked his name from a crystal chalice, bringing new hope for the beleaguered minority in the Islamist country.

Tawadros, 60, became Egypt's 118th Coptic Pope after his name was picked from the box during today's altar lottery at St Mark's Cathedral here, and filled the void created by the death of Pope Shenouda.

Following an 8 am mass today, acting pope Bishop Pachomios led Bishoy Gerges Mossad, to the altar, where the young blindfolded boy chose the name of the new pope.

"We will pray that God will choose the good shepherd," acting Pope Pachomios told the packed Cairo cathedral, at the start of the ceremony.

The three finalists who entered today's lottery were: Bishop Rafael, 54, Father Rafael Ava Mina, 70 and Bishop Tawadros.

Amid heavy police security around the Cairo cathedral, thousands of worshippers erupted in applause, tears and prayer when his name was announced.

"The pope is a servant," Tawadros was quoted by the Egyptian state television as saying after his appointment.

Tawadros said that he bore "the responsibility of love and peace." The new Pope succeeds Pope Shenouda III who passed away last March at the age of 88. Pope Shenouda led the church for forty years and was chosen in a similar lottery in 1971.

Bishop Tawadros is auxiliary bishop for Beheira and auxiliary to Archbishop Pachomios (who is currently serving as acting Pope). A member of the Holy Synod, Tawadros was born in 1952 and studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University. He was ordained bishop in 1997.

The newly chosen pope was supported by members of the Coptic Laity Council for "his wisdom, firmness and ability to maintain good rapport with everyone in his province; both Christians and Muslims alike."

Bishop Rafael, Bishop of Central Cairo and Heliopolis, who is one of the three leading candidates for the papal seat, also nominated Tawadros for the position because he is widely respected in the Coptic community.

The road to choosing a new pope began immediately after Pope Shenouda's death, when 76-year-old Pachomios' was appointed as interim pope. The Church then formed a committee mandated with drawing up a shortlist of nominees to become Shenouda's successor.

Another committee was also tasked with choosing electors, those members of the Coptic community who would have the right to cast ballots in the papal electoral process. A total of 2,406 electors were chosen, drawn from among Coptic archbishops, bishops, lay council members and agents of the archdioceses, as well as prominent Coptic laymen including Coptic newspaper editors-in-chief and members of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate.

On Monday, October 29th the five candidates entered the penultimate stage of the papal election, when the electors chose three finalists. Bishop Rafael garnered 1980 votes, the highest among all the candidates, taking 32.36 per cent of total votes. Bishop Tawadros received 1623 votes, taking 26.53 per cent of total votes. Father Raphael received 1530 votes, totalling 25 per cent of the votes.

Bishop Pachomios had kicked off the final ceremony early today, by reading the names of each candidate out loud to the congregation.

The names were written in bold on large rectangle shaped papers. Each paper was then tied and placed in a black box, which was sealed with red wax, from which later the boy chose the name of the new Pope.

"I hope the new pope will listen to the youth of our community," 20 year-old engineering student Kirolos Zakaria said.

The new pope is faced with the task of leading Egypt's Coptic community in a politically uncertain climate, following the last year's popular uprising.

Islamists and Salafists continue to push their religious agendas, following the election of Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammed Mursi as Egypt's president and the ongoing constitution-drafting process.

The opinions of a number of Coptic leading figures and intellectuals varied about the chief issues and files that await the new Pope.

An issue high on the Pope's agenda will be amending the charter which regulates the election of the pope as out of the millions of Copts in Egypt, just 2,417 were eligible to participate in the papal election, 2,256 of whom cast votes.

The criteria have attracted criticism for perceived elitism, excluding the vast majority of Copts.

The new pope will also have to tackle critical issues including obtaining state approval to amend the church's 1938 bylaws, which lay down the rules governing Coptic divorce and remarriage, and the controversial 1957 bylaws regulating papal elections.

PTI