In Islamist-led Egypt, Coptic Christians name new pope

Sun Nov 4, 2012 1:17pm GMT
 

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - 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, fret 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 interim Pope Bakhomious, dressed in gold-embroidered robes, who has temporarily been in the post since Shenouda's death.

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

The new pope, bishop of a region in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, had trained as a pharmacist before joining the priesthood. Clerics said he turned 61 on Sunday, but state media gave his birth date as November 4, 1952 suggesting he had turned 60.

Church experts said he had strong communication skills and had called for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.   Continued...

Egyptian caretaker of the Coptic Church, interim Pope Bakhomious (R) holds a piece of paper with the name of Bishop Tawadros written on it, after it was picked by Bishoy Gerges in Cairo November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
 
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