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November 04, 2012

Tawadros Chosen as New Pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians

Egypt's Coptic Christians have a new leader.  Bishop Tawadros has been chosen to succeed the late Pope Shenouda and to shepherd one of the world's oldest Christian communities during precarious times.  

At Cairo's Abbasiya Cathedral, the final choice came down to a young boy, led to the altar where three names had been placed in a jar.  Blindfolded, to let what the faithful believe is the hand of God guide him, the boy reached for the paper that would reveal the next pope.

With that gesture, Bishop Tawadros of Beheira became the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle.

​​Interim pope Bakhomious, to whom Tawadros has been an aide, led the ceremony that brought an end to months of uncertainty in Egypt's time of transition.

Bakhomious said the world lacks peace because it has ignored spiritual work. The basic, only source of peace, he said, is Jesus Christ.

Tawadros faces daunting challenges as he succeeds Pope Shenouda. The late pope led for more than 40 years, in an uneasy accommodation with the old government.  Many Copts worry Egypt's new Islamist leadership will mean a diminished role in their ancestral home.

Coptic lawyer Mansour Hosny Fahmy Kezman took part in the pre-selection electoral process.

He says Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population, have no good representation in political or democratic work - not even in job opportunities.

President Mohamed Morsi, who came from the Muslim Brotherhood, has promised to be a leader of all Egyptians. But his government has failed to stop attacks on Christians by Islamic extremists.

Church member Nagy Lotfy Tamer is from a region in Upper Egypt with a strong presence of Muslim fundamentalists. He says churches are demolished, and thugs and “terrorists” storm into Christians' homes.

Some are trying to be more optimistic.  “We put many things for Christianity in Egypt [they] did not [have] or was not before. I mean, I think it will be better than before,” said church spokesman Anba Pola, who is part of the group drafting a new constitution for the country.

But the Coptic Church also faces challenges from within. Younger members, empowered by the revolution that swept away Egypt's old political order last year, are beginning to raise demands of their religious leaders as well.

Anba Pola says the church is listening.

"We are thinking about our future," said Pola. "The church without young [people] is a church without future."

The church spokesman says the new pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, will rise to any challenge. Tawadros will be enthroned in a ceremony later this month, attended by President Morsi.