Finalists emerge in race for Egypts Coptic leadership

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After officially revealed later on Monday night, the names of the top three vote-getters will later be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.

On Nov. 4, a child will be blindfolded and asked to choose one of the papers.

The person chosen will be enthroned in a ceremony on Nov. 18.

Coptic Christians started voting early Monday to elect a new leader to succeed Pope Shenuda III, who passed away in March leaving behind a community anxious about its status under an Islamist-led government.

The death of Shenuda, who headed the church for four decades, set in motion the process to elect a new patriarch to lead the community through the post-revolution era in Egypt, which is marked by increased sectarian tension.

Five candidates -- two bishops and three monks -- vied to become the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle.

A council of senior clergy, current and former Coptic public officials, MPs, local councilors and journalists will cast a vote for their preferred candidate.

According to a report by Egypt’s al-Ahram Online, that included a summary on each candidate’s resume:

*Father Pachomious al-Suriani: A monk at the Paromeos Monastery (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) in Wadi Natrun, a valley situated in Egypt’s Nitrian Desert. Born in Aswan, Upper Egypt, in 1963, he holds a joint degree in science and education. Father Pachomious currently resides in Italy.

*Bishop Rafael: Auxiliary bishop of central Cairo and the capital’s Heliopolis district, a former aide to the late Pope Shenouda III and a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Synod. Born in Cairo in 1954 and a graduate of Ain Shams University’s medical faculty, Rafael was ordained bishop in June 1997.

*Father Rafael Ava Mina: A monk at St Mina Monastery (Mar Mina), located in the Western Desert near the coastal town of Alexandria. Born in Cairo in 1942, Rafael has a law degree from Ain Shams University.

*Father Seraphim al-Souriani: Also a monk at the Paromeos Monastery. Born in 1959 in Cairo, Seraphim holds a science degree from Ain Shams University. He lives in the U.S.

*Bishop Tawadros: Auxiliary bishop for the northern Beheira governorate, and auxiliary to Bishop Pachomious (who is currently serving as acting pope). A member of the Holy Synod, the Coptic Church’s highest authority, Tawadros was born in 1952 and studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University. He was ordained bishop in 1997.

They all have been visiting churches and preaching across the country ahead of the voting.

Copts around the world were asked to fast for three days before the voting, and a second period of fasting will begin on Oct. 31, said Bishop Paul, spokesman for the selection committee.

One cleric who did not make the short list is hardline Bishop Bishoy because of, as the state-owned Egyptian Gazette said in a recent editorial, “his fierce attacks on other denominations and his previous statements to the press that could have sparked sectarian sedition in the country.”

Bishoy came under fire over comments he made about the Muslim holy book, the Quran, and his exclusion suggests the church is trying to keep controversial figures out of the race.

Egypt’s Copts, who make up six to 10 percent of the 83 million population, have regularly complained of discrimination and marginalization, even under the secular regime of president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled last year.

The subsequent rise of Islamists, and the election of the country’s first Islamist president, Mohammed Mursi, have sparked fears of further persecution at home despite Mursi’s repeated promises to be a president “for all Egyptians.”

In the latest incident, five Egyptian Coptic Christians were injured Sunday in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo, security sources said.

The violence took place as Muslim villagers attempted to block access to the church as the Coptic faithful arrived from throughout the area to attend Sunday mass.

Bishop Morcos, chairman of the church’s influential media committee, recently told the state owned al-Ahram weekly “we reject the notion of a religious state that would prevent us from exercising our freedom as Copts.”

“The state should be ruled by law and not religion,” he said.

Egypt's 118th Coptic Pope can expect to face a number of major challenges, according to al-Ahram Online report.

The biggest challenge facing the new pope will be his ability to live up to his predecessor’s towering reputation.

“The church needs the pope to be a spiritual man, as well as an administrator able to deal with everyone and reach out to everyone – both to those who voted for him and those who did not; both to Christians and non-Christians alike,” Coptic Bishop Markos of Cairo’s Shubra al-Kheima diocese told al-Ahram Online.

The new pope “must be able to deal wisely with government institutions, Egypt’s varied political and religious trends, and with other Christian churches,” Youssef Sidhom, member of the church’s lay council and editor-in-chief of Coptic weekly al-Watan was quoted as saying.

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