Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church chose a new pope, Bishop Tawadros, in a sumptuous service on Sunday that Christians hope will lead them through an Islamist-dominated landscape and protect what is the Middle East’s biggest Christian community.
Many Christians in Egypt, who make up about a tenth of the population of 83 million, are worried about political gains made by Islamists since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year. They 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 candidates chosen in an earlier vote were placed in a wax-sealed bowl before a blindfolded boy picked out one name.
Copts believe this long-established 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 who clerics said turned 61 on Sunday, had trained as a pharmacist before joining the priesthood.
Church experts said he had strong communication skills and had called for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.