CAIRO -- Egypt's Coptic Orthodox
Church began the first phase of voting Monday to elect a new spiritual leader
to replace Pope Shenouda III, whose death in March left behind a Christian
community increasingly worried over the rise of a new Islamist-led government.
An assembly of more than 2,400 Coptic scholars and public officials cast
ballots, narrowing a list of five papal candidates down to three
finalists: Bishop Rafael, 54, a doctor and current assistant bishop for
central Cairo; Bishop
Tawadros, 60, of the Nile Delta district of Beheira; and Father Rafael Ava
The names of the finalists will be written on ballots and placed in a
box. In accordance with church tradition, a blindfolded child from the
congregation will draw the name of the new pope Nov. 4 during a public
ceremony at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo. The pope will be
enthroned in a ceremonial celebration Nov. 18.
The long-anticipated election for the 118th pope of Alexandria, as the leader
of the church is known, came as a relief for thousands of anxious Copts, who
often said they felt "orphaned" after the death of Shenouda. The late
pope led the church for more than four decades and was revered among
Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt's 82 million
Shenouda was a calming voice in a country troubled by growing sectarian
animosities even under the seemingly secular regime of Hosni
Mubarak, who was ousted last year. Churches have been attacked and peaceful Christian protesters have been killed. The Coptic community
has felt increasingly isolated since new Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was
inaugurated in June.
Morsi’s government includes few Christians, women and other minorities.
Copts are also concerned over how strongly sharia, or Islamic law, will influence the
nation’s new constitution in terms of civil and religious freedoms. When the Cabinet
was chosen in August, the church’s acting leader, Bishop Pachomious, refused to
congratulate the prime minister on the formation, which he called
"unjust" for failing to be inclusive.
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-- Reem Abdellatif
Photo: Egyptian Coptic priests wait in line Monday at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo to cast their votes in the
election of a new pope. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency