Benedict XVI sends encouragement to new Coptic Orthodox head

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2012 / 11:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI congratulated the new leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian Church as Christian minorities throughout the region face uncertain futures after the Arab Spring.

“I am confident that … you will be a genuine spiritual father for your people … and an effective partner with all your fellow citizens in building the new Egypt in peace and harmony,” the Pope said in his message to Bishop Tawadros, who was elected 118th pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Elected Nov. 4, Bishop Tawadros succeeds Pope Shenouda II, who died in March after leading his flock for over four decades and pursuing an agenda of Christian unity. He will be officially elevated as Pope Tawadros II on Nov. 18.

Pope Benedict ended his message by describing the current times as “challenging” and urging Egyptian Christians to unify in love and fellowship.

“Everybody wanted a leader who could unite Egypt’s Christians in these very difficult times,” Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Association of Copts, told Vatican Radio Nov. 4.

Egypt’s Christians, mostly Copts, make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million-strong population, while the remaining 90 percent is Muslim.

They are uncertain how life will be under the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government. Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Christians suffered terrorist attacks and subtler forms of discrimination. No arrests have yet been made, for example, in the bombing of a New Year’s Eve 2011 liturgy in Alexandria that killed 21 Coptic worshipers.

Meunier, one of the lay Copts involved in selecting his Church’s new leader, believes that building bridges with moderate Muslims is necessary if Egyptian Christians are to have a livable future.

“It is important to have a pope who believes in dialogue with Muslims because it’s the only way to help promote democracy, religious freedom, human rights, and respect for all these values that we hope for,” he said.

And he believes Bishop Tawadros, whom he voted for, is the man to do it. The new spiritual leader was elected in Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral in a unique and solemn ceremony meant to ensure the selection of Coptic popes is in God’s hands.

The names of the final contenders are written on pieces of paper and put in identical crystal balls sealed with wax and placed in a glass chalice on the altar. Then a blindfolded altar boy selects a ball.

Tawadros was one of three finalists chosen by a council of some 2,400 clergymen and lay Coptic leaders in October.

Known as a deeply holy man, Bishop Tawadros, 60, discovered his vocation late in life. He ran an Egyptian pharmaceutical firm before joining a desert monastery in 1986 and being ordained in 1989.

Until his official papal elevation on Nov. 18, Bishop Tawadros will spend his time in solitary prayer.

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