The Coptic Church will know who its next pope will be on Sunday.
Over the past few months, the papal selection process has been active in selecting the next head of the church. When it started back in April, there were approximately 17 candidates put forth through a nomination process by Coptic monks and bishops. At the same time, a list of eligible voters was carefully selected, and included thousands of Copts from the congregation and church clergy.
In recent weeks, the list of candidates was narrowed down to 5 candidates by the Holy Synod, led by Bishop Bakhomios (acting pope since March 2012). The Synod was tasked with narrowing down the list to candidates whom they thought would be best for the position.
Once the list was narrowed, the eligible voters had to decide on their top 3 choices from those 5 candidates. On October 29th, the votes were counted and yielded these three candidates:
1. Bishop Tawadros
2. Bishop Rafaael
3. Fr. Rafaael Ava Mina
From these candidates, only one will be selected to be the next pope by the last stage of the process, known as the “Altar Lottery”. In this stage, the three names are placed on the altar in the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, and a blindfolded child will select one of these names to conclude the process. According to church traditions, the blindfolded child’s selection represents the will of God in the selection process.
The process has yielded some criticism; as the Synod narrowed the initial list, many critics noted that this was a very closed process and possibly controlled by ulterior motives. The voting element of the process was criticized for not being inclusive enough of the people’s will, with some people noting that it was only a “Coptic VIP” list of voters. Critics of the last stage of the process have come from both inside and outside of the church, noting that the “altar lottery” is not grounded or required in any church traditions.
Political Hot Seat
The incoming pope will be dealing with a highly tense political environment. Aside from working towards building rapport and support within the church, the pope will also have to set the tone for relations with the government. Concerns about Coptic citizens’ rights has constantly been a topic of discussion in Egypt’s political and social circles, and has been a major talking point lately because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in the wake of the 2011 revolution, and the recent increase in sectarian tensions between Islamist extremists and the Coptic community.
“If Egyptian Copts are represented by the Church, they will be considered second-class citizens, because they are subjects of the Church first before they are subjects of the state,” said Yousef Sidhom, the editor of Egypt’s main Coptic newspaper. “Many have mocked this, saying how can the Copts demand citizenship rights while accepting to remain under the umbrella of the Church in the face of the state.”
As the process concludes on Sunday, many questions will begin to be answered, as Egypt moves into a new political era and new policies begin to be implemented.