BEIRUT

Middle East

New pope takes reins of Coptic church

Tawadros, third from left, is installed as pope at a ceremony in Cairo.

CAIRO: The Coptic Orthodox church staged a ceremony rich in ritual Sunday to install its pope, Tawadros II, who Coptics hope will guide them in the new, Islamist-led Egypt.

The 60-year-old pope was picked on Nov. 4 and the ceremony Sunday filled with incense, elaborate robes and chanting marked his formal ascendance as the 118th leader of the church.

Coptic Christians, whose church predates the arrival of Islam in Egypt, make up approximately a tenth of Egypt’s 83 million people.

Many fear their community, the largest Christian group in the Middle East which has long complained of discrimination, will be squeezed to the sidelines of society under Islamists now ruling the Muslim-majority nation.

“We chose him because he is [a] man who is obedient to God,” said Bishop Bakhomious, who ran the church in the interim period after Shenouda III died aged 88 in March after four decades in office.

“God had listened to our prayers and did not wish to leave us orphans for long,” he added, as priests and bishops prayed for the new pope, dressing him in lavish embroidered vestments.

In the final stages, a red and gold miter was placed on his head before he sat on a throne. The bearded and bespectacled pope trained as pharmacist before being ordained.

President Mohammad Mursi, propelled to power by the Muslim Brotherhood, did not attend the ceremony in the cathedral in Cairo’s Abbasiya district to the dismay of some Christians who said it undermined his claim to be a leader for all Egyptians.

But he sent his prime minister, Hisham Kandil. Other officials and dignitaries also attended, including Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch, Beshara al-Rai.

Tawadros II faces challenges delivering on the hopes of his flock. He told Reuters at a desert monastery west of Cairo a day after his was picked that the church would oppose any new constitution that only met Muslim concerns.

Liberals, moderate Muslims and Islamists are tussling over the shape of the constitution and extent of Islamic references in the document. A group of technical advisers quit the assembly drawing it up Saturday, saying their voices were not being heard.

That complicates a process that is vital to completing Egypt’s transition to democracy since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. A constitution must be in place before an election can be held to replace the dissolved parliament.

Christians have long grumbled that they are sidelined in the workplace and in law, citing rules that make it easier to build a mosque than a church. A spate of attacks on churches since Mubarak’s overthrow has further worried them.

From the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI urged the new pope to strengthen relations between the Catholic and Coptic Church in a challenging climate under an Islamist-led government.

“It is with fraternal joy that I send greetings to your Holiness on the happy occasion of your enthronement,” Benedict said in a message sent to Pope Tawadros II. “I pray too that relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church will continue to grow closer, not only in a fraternal spirit of collaboration, but also through a deepening of the theological dialogue.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 19, 2012, on page 1.

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