Middle East

Egypt's Copts vote for successor to Pope Shenouda III

Papal candidates Fr Pachomius (L), Fr Raphael (C) and Fr Seraphim (R) talk in Cairo, 22 October 2012
Image caption A blindfolded child will pick the name of the next Pope from a shortlist of three on 4 November

A council of Coptic Christians in Egypt has named three candidates to succeed Pope Shenouda III, who died in March.

They chose two bishops and a monk from a short-list of five to become the 118th head of the region's largest Christian minority.

The three names will be written on pieces of paper placed in a box on the altar of St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo.

A blindfolded child will be asked to draw one of the names on 4 November, thereby picking the new Pope.

The individual chosen will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November.

Late on Monday, acting Pope Pachomios said more than 93% of the council, made up of some 2,400 people, had voted.

Those who voted were picked by the Church and included leading members of the church, public figures and a handful of representatives of the Ethiopian Church, which has historic links to the church in Egypt.

They selected Bishop Raphael, a 54-year-old former aide to the late Pope and a member of the Church's Holy Synod, the Coptic Church's highest authority; Bishop Tawadros, a 60-year-old auxiliary bishop to acting head of the Coptic Church as well as being a member of the Holy Synod; and a monk from Alexandria, Father Raphael Ava Mina.

Aged 70, Fr Raphael Ava Mina is the eldest of the three candidates.

The next patriarch will be the community's main contact with Egypt's new president.

"We always elect our pope in a critical time in the country's history. The last two popes were elected at the start of two Egyptian presidents' rule," volunteer Shaker Talaat told Agence France Presse.

"We are all so worried about the situation in Egypt now and the rise of Islamists to power, but the Church has always been harassed," Magdy Helmi, a 53-year old voting as a representative of a provincial branch of the Coptic Church, told Reuters.

"The church became an expert in surviving bad times," he added.

Pope Shenouda III died at the age of 88 on 17 March, reportedly after suffering from cancer.

He had urged officials to do more to address Coptic concerns after numerous attacks on churches in recent years.

He had led the Church, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, for four decades.

His successor faces the task of reassuring the Coptic community during the Islamist resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, correspondents say.

Many younger Copts will be looking for a leader who can help redefine their community's role in a rapidly changing post-Mubarak Egypt, they add.

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