A picture taken on October 17, 2012 shows Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60, posing for a photograph in the Egyptian capital Cairo. -AFP Photo

CAIRO: Bishop Tawadros was chosen as new pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians Sunday when a blindfolded altar boy picked his name from a chalice in a ceremony invoking divine guidance for the beleaguered minority.

Acting head of the church Bishop Pachomius took the ballot from the boy's hand and, showing it to the throng inside 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 the Nile Delta province of Beheira, was among three 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 November 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.

“The pope is a servant,” Tawadros told Egyptian state television after his appointment, adding that he bore “the responsibility of love and peace.”

Tawadros, whose given name Wagih Sobhy Baqi Suleiman, had come second in a vote last week for three final candidates.

Nearly 2,500 Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors had voted to select the three 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 rite, and the use of an altar boy to choose the next pope, “gives a special blessing to the chosen one,” Pachomius told the congregation in St Mark's.

Bishoy Girgis Masaad, the altar boy who picked Tawadros' name from a chalice, was chosen from among 12 children and later told state television he had wanted Tawadros to win.

Pachomius later said in an interview with state television that the new pope had yet to be ratified by President Mohamed Morsi.

But this is a formality, and Morsi sent Tawadros a congratulatory message, the official MENA news agency reported.

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 chalice.

Shenuda, a careful, pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority, which has faced a surge in sectarian attacks after a popular uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

The pope serves as the spiritual leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up between six and 10 per cent of its 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 Morsi, Egypt's first Islamist president.

The rise of Islamists after the revolution has sparked fears among Copts of further persecution at home, despite Morsi's repeated promises to be a president “for all Egyptians.”

In the most recent incident, five Copts were injured in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo on October 28, security sources said.

The violence broke out when Muslim villagers tried to block access to the church as the Coptic faithful arrived for Sunday mass.


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