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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 25 January 2022

Egypt's Coptic Christians vote to elect new Pope

Pope Shenuda III died in March – leaving a dangerous vacuum as the Coptic Church deals with the post-Mubarak era.

A Coptic clergyman registers for voting with election workers during the new Coptic Pope elections at the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo.
A Coptic clergyman registers for voting with election workers during the new Coptic Pope elections at the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo.
Image: Nasser Nasser/AP

EGYPT’S COPTIC CHRISTIANS have voted to elect a new leader to succeed Pope Shenuda III, who died in March leaving behind a community anxious about its status under an Islamist-led government.

Nearly 2,500 eligible voters made up of Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors were casting their ballots in Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, seat of the Coptic papacy, to choose from among the five candidates.

Shenuda III, a careful and pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority which faced a surge in sectarian attacks after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

The next patriarch will be the main contact of the community with Egypt’s new Islamist president.

The Coptic pope serves as the spiritual leader of the country’s Christians, who make up between 6 and 10 per cent of Egypt’s 83-million population.

“We always elect our pope in a critical time in the country’s history. The last two popes were elected at the start of two Egyptian presidents’ rule,” said Shaker Talaat, a volunteer helping organise the vote.

Five candidates – two bishops and three monks – are vying to become the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle.

First democracy, then Divine intervention

The names of the top three vote-getters will then be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St. Mark’s Cathedral. The names of the finalists will be known after the vote count later today.

On Sunday, a child will be blindfolded and asked to choose one of the papers. The person selected will be enthroned in a ceremony on November 18.

“We hope that God will give us a man who is attentive to our problems, and conscious of our unity,” said Father Kirollos as he voted.

Another priest, Boktor Nassim, hoped that the next pope will be like his predecessor Shenuda who had “special relations with all groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The candidates are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five candidates at 70; Father Seraphim al-Suriani, 53 and Father Pachomious al-Suriani, 49.

They visited churches and preached across the country ahead of the voting.

Copts around the world were asked to fast for three days before the voting, and a second period of fasting will begin on October 31, said Bishop Paul, spokesman for the selection committee.

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