Bishop Tawadros was chosen as new Pope of Egypt’s Coptic Christians yesterday when a blindfolded altar boy picked his name from a chalice in a ceremony invoking divine guidance for the beleaguered minority.
The acting head of the church, Bishop Pachomius, took the ballot from the boy’s hand and, showing it to those crowded into St Mark’s Cathedral, announced: “Bishop Tawadros.”
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause as church bells tolled in celebration across the country.
The new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle succeeds Pope Shenuda III, who died in March, leaving behind a community anxious about its future under an Islamist-led government.
Tawadros, 60, a bishop in Beheira Province, was among three potential candidates — the other two being Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo, and Father Rafael Ava Mina, 70.
On Nov. 18, Tawadros will assume his new position as spiritual head of the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, becoming the 118th pope in a line dating back to the origins of Christianity and to Saint Mark, the apostle and author of one of the four Gospels, who brought the new faith to Egypt.
Tawadros, whose given name is Wagih Sobhy Baqi Suleiman, had come second in a vote last week for the three final candidates.
Nearly 2,500 Coptic public officials, members of parliament, journalists and local councilors had voted to select the three finalists from an original group of five to succeed Shenuda, who died at the age of 88 after four decades on the papal throne.
Tawadros is said to have had the support of the interim head of the church, Bishop Pachomius.
The ceremony in which he was appointed was meant to allow God to help choose the new leader.
The rites, and the use of an altar boy to choose the next pope, “gives a special blessing to the chosen one,” Pachomius said.
“We ask for the support of the Holy Spirit,” Pachomius told the congregation gathered yesterday morning in St Mark’s Cathedral.
Bishoy Girgis Masaad, the altar boy who picked Tawadros’ name from a chalice, was chosen from among 12 children and later told state TV he had wanted Tawadros to win.
Strict measures were taken to ensure there was no foul play during the entire process. The three pieces of paper were all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in the box.
Shenuda, a careful, pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority, which has faced a surge in sectarian attacks after an uprising overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
The pope serves as the spiritual leader of the country’s Coptic Christians, who make up between 6 and 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million-strong population.
Amid increased fears about the community’s future after Mubarak’s overthrow, the new pope will be its main contact with Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.