Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, chose Bishop Tawadros as the new pope Sunday in the first election in more than 40 years, news media reported.
The new patriarch has been chosen at a time when Egypt’s Coptic community fears losing ground in the wake of the Islamist takeover of politics, sectarian violence and pressures within the Church for reform.
Bishop Tawadros, the 118th leader of the Copts, succeeds Pope Shenouda III who died in March at the age of 88. The 60-year-old will be enthroned in a ceremony Nov. 18.
The name of the new pope-designate was picked from a glass bowl with the names of the three shortlisted candidates by a blindfolded 6-year-old boy at a ceremony in Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral, the BBC has reported.
All the three candidates, the other two being Bishop Raphael and Father Raphael Ava Mina, were chosen in a ballot by a council of some 2,400 church and community officials in October.
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The boy who was designated to pick the new leader was chosen from 12 shortlisted children.
The acting leader of the Coptic Church, Bishop Pachomius, took the ballot from the boy’s hand and showed it to all those gathered in the cathedral to witness the ceremony.
Christians, once widespread in Egypt, were reduced to a minority following the Arab conquest in the 7th century. They make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million population now. They are divided into a majority of Coptic Orthodox Church and a Coptic Catholic Church in union with the Vatican which has about 250,000 members, according to a Reuters report.
Speaking after the televised ceremony, Bishop Tawadros indicated that his plan was to reduce Coptic Church’s explicitly political role endorsed by his predecessor, who was also a supporter of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
“The most important thing is for the church to go back and live consistently within the spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work,” the bishop was quoted as saying by the New York Times. He promised to begin a process of “rearranging the house from the inside.”
In a recent television interview, Bishop Tawadros had said that his priorities were to live in harmony “with our brothers, the Muslims” and to promote “moderate constructive integration in the society.”
In October last year, 27 people — most of them Coptic Christians protesting the torching of a church during the Egyptian uprising — were killed in what came to be known as the Maspero massacre.
Egypt’s Christians complain that churches, including St Mary's Church in the Cairo district of Imbaba, have come under attacks from the radical Islamists since the Arab Spring.