THE Islamist head of state in Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi,
and the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, were
among the first senior figures last Sunday to congratulate the
newly chosen leader of the Coptic Orthodox community, Pope
Tawadrous II. Salafist leaders, by contrast, made no reference to
Pope Tawadrous, who will be enthroned on 18 November, takes
office at a time when Christians in Egypt feel marginalised and
challenged by the recent political success enjoyed by Islamists.
The new Pope has committed himself to work for greater integration
of Copts with the ruling Muslim majority.
The President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and
the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, said on Tuesday that
many Egyptian Christians "had hoped that the Revolution of 25
January 2011 would relieve them from oppression and from the
hardships they have been facing before. They are now hoping that
the new Pope will be a voice for them."
The process of selecting a leader to succeed the late Pope
Shenouda III began last week (News, 2 November). Bishop Tawadrous,
aged 60, was one of three Coptic leaders to be chosen in
preliminary elections. On Sunday, in accordance with tradition, a
blindfolded child in the Coptic Cathedral of St Mark, in the
Abbasiya district of Cairo, selected one of three pieces of paper
to choose the winner.
The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United
Kingdom, Bishop Angaelos, said in a statement: "The atmosphere was
wonderfully joyous in the Cathedral. . . . There was such a
euphoric reaction when the name of Bishop Tawadrous was announced.
We now shift our prayers from God's selection to God's guidance to
lead our beloved Coptic Orthodox Church."
Pope Tawadrous, who graduated in pharmacy and worked for a time
in the pharmaceutical industry, became a monk in 1988, before being
ordained priest. Ten years later, he became a bishop. He has
written 12 books on theology.
After his appointment, Pope Tawadrous addressed the issue that
is at the forefront of Christians' minds in Egypt: what the future
might hold for them in a country where Islamist groups are now
dominant. He made it clear that he would press for Copts to live
side by side with all other Egyptians rather than be an isolated
minority. He promised to serve "the Egyptian people as a whole,
Muslims and Christians. It is a very important priority for us all
that we should live together." His heart was "open to everybody",
he said, "and I carry pure love to everybody on the land of
One of the chief concerns of Copts and secular Egyptians is that
the Muslim-dominated body that is drafting the new constitution
will force through articles that impose Islamic values on the
country. In an interview on Monday, Pope Tawardrous said: "A
constitution that hints at imposing a religious state in Egypt is
absolutely rejected. If a good constitution is presented in which
every person finds himself represented, there is no doubt that
Egypt will develop."
Among the messages of congratulations for the Coptic Pope was
one from Pope Benedict XVI, who said that Pope Tawadrous would be
"a genuine spiritual father for your people, and an effective
partner with all your fellow citizens in building the new Egypt in
peace and harmony". The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and
Wales asked Bishop Angaelos to convey to the new Pope "the
assurance of the prayers of all the bishops and faithful of the
Catholic Church in this country for him, as he prepares to take up
his leadership of the Coptic Orthodox Church throughout the
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav
Fykse Tveit, said that he was aware of the new Pope's "striving
towards unity and love between the various communities in Egypt,
and we pray that your ministry, in these uncertain times, will be
strong in the quest for freedom, equality, justice, and peace."