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New pope named for Egypt's embattled Coptic Christians

Bishop Tawadros has become the new pope of the largest sect of Egyptian Christians at a time of increasing difficulty for the minority.

By Correspondent / November 4, 2012

Bishop Tawadros's name is announced as the new pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians on November 4, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Bishop Tawadros had his name selected from a bowl by a blindfolded child as part of the selection process during a liturgy at St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

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Cairo

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church chose a new pope today, putting a new leader at the helm of Egypt's largest Christian sect at a time of increasing difficulty for the minority.

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After a three-and-a-half hour long liturgical service, the acting pope blindfolded an altar boy, who reached into a glass container to select the name of the 118th pope from among those of three finalists, in accordance with Coptic tradition.

The huge cathedral erupted in joyful applause as the acting pope unfolded the piece of paper the boy had chosen, holding it up to reveal the name of the church's new spiritual leader: Bishop Tawadros.

Bishop Tawadros takes the helm of the church at a difficult time for Christians in Egypt. He must seek to protect Christians from a rising tide of hostility and attacks and navigate a relationship with Egypt's first Islamist president as many are fearful about the rise to power of Islamists in post-uprising Egypt.

A generational shift

The ascendancy of the relatively young new leader (he is 60) marks a generational shift. Shenouda III, who died in March at the age of 89, led the church for 40 years. During his tenure, while the church expanded outside of Egypt, at home it turned inward, as Copts increasingly withdrew from public life and relied on the church to secure their rights within the state. It is too soon to know yet what kind of path Bishop Tawadros will chart for the church in the post-uprising Egypt, says Samia Sidhom, an editor at the Coptic newspaper Watani.

But he is widely respected, says Ms. Sidhom, and his younger age gives him an advantage in a country whose massive youth population is tired of leaving decision making to the elders. In an interview with local media two weeks ago, he stressed the importance of listening to young people and including them in the decision making processes, says Sidhom. "This is something which is quite promising where the church is concerned," she adds.

During the long, traditional service at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, thousands of black-clad priests, nuns in gray habits, and invited laypeople joined in liturgical chants that rose to vaulted ceilings. They waited with bated breath as the blindfolded altar boy chose the next pope, a tradition meant to ensure that God's choice, not man's, prevails.

After the ceremony was over, and the new pope's picture was flashed onto the screen at the front of the cathedral, many of those heading toward the exits amid the pealing of the cathedral's bells said they trusted that God had chosen the right man for the difficult job.

"We can't see the future, but God can, and he chose the one who can do the best for us in this time," says Mina Samy Awad. He says he met Bishop Tawadros at a church opening on Egypt's northern coast three years ago, and that the bishop was "so friendly. He ate with us and listened to us."

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