Egypts Coptic Christians prepare to choose new Pope

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About 12 boys will be chosen on Saturday to attend Egypt’s 118th Pope inauguration ceremony, one of them will become his mother’s pride if he wins the honor of selecting a new pope for millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

The interim head of the Coptic Church, Father Pachomius, will choose 12 boys to be invited to the ceremony. On Sunday, he will instruct that one of them be blindfolded.

That boy, aged between five and eight, will choose a piece of paper bearing the name of the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle.

This is going to be the first such contest since 1971, when pope Shenuda III was selected by the same method more than four decades ago, Bishop Pola told AFP.

The names of the three candidates to succeed pope Sheunda will be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St Mark’s Cathedral, for God to guide the boy’s hand towards the winner -- in the beliefs of the Church and the faithful.

The candidates are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.

The finalists were chosen after nearly 2,500 eligible voters made up of Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councilors have selected them in the church’s election last week.

The final choice will be left to a boy who will be blindfolded and asked to pick one name on Sunday.

Bishop Pola told reporters that strict measures are taken to ensure there is no foul play: the three pieces of paper are all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in a transparent box.

The entire process will be televised before a large, live congregation.

“A lot of families propose the names of children, that’s why we lay down precise criteria and ensure the faithfulness of the family and the child to the Church,” said the bishop.

Dozens of families have come forward. “I pray my son George is selected to carry out the will of God,” said one mother, Merihan Moros.

The newly chosen Coptic pope will serve as the spiritual leader of the country’s Christians, who make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 83-million-strong population.

Disputes over Egypt’s constitution unresolved

The preparations of Egypt’s Coptic Church election follow the Salafist Muslims demonstration on Friday demanding a stringer reference to Islamic law or sharia in Egypt’s new constitution, a contentious issue of rising political tension.

The size of the protest in Tahrir Square -- up to 500 people -- was limited because the main Salafist groups decided to postpone their demonstration on the issue to a later date, an AFP journalist said.

The new constitution is to replace the 1971 charter suspended by the military which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February last year.

Fundamentalist Islamists want the new constitution to have the precepts of sharia as the basis for legislation, a stance rejected by liberal and secular Egyptians.

Contentious topics in the drafting of the new constitution include the role of religion, the status of women and the scope of freedom of expression and faith.