Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Papal choices

A shortlist of five potential successors to Pope Shenouda III has been announced, reports Michael Adel

The Coptic Orthodox Church has announced a final list of five candidates -- Bishop Raphael of Central Cairo, Bishop Tawdros of Beheira, Father Bakhomious Al-Siryani, Father Seraphim Al-Siryani and Father Raphael Ava Mina -- from which the next pope will be chosen. On Tuesday, the Orthodox Church set 29 October as the date of elections, when three candidates will be chosen for the ballot. On 4 November, the new pope will be named, after a small boy at the church draws a card by lot bearing the name of one of the three contenders.

The acting pope, Bishop Bakhomious, told Al-Ahram Weekly the final list had been welcomed by the Coptic congregation.

"God will reveal his choice during the Altar Ballot," he said. "The Nominations Committee fulfilled its role and the Church thanks its members and appreciates their work."

Bishop Bakhomious made the final list of candidates public on Saturday at Bishop Bishoi's Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun in front of the 18-member Nominations Committee of the Holy Synod, the General Lay Council and the Coptic Endowments Authority.

After the news conference committee member Edward Ghaleb told the Weekly: "All the candidates eliminated are good priests and have many supporters within the Church but we had to pare down the shortlist to five. It includes two bishops and three monks whose backgrounds have been thoroughly checked."

Nominations Committee Georgette Qillini told the Weekly: "Since the committee began its work we were guided by fear of God, the teachings of the Holy Book, our consciences and the interests of the congregation. We felt God's hand working with us at the committee; this was apparent in the internal peace during discussions and the ability to continue working non-stop for long hours everyday as a group guided by fear of God."

Many Copts, says Qillini, will be unfamiliar with the five candidates, especially the monks. Campaigns have been organised to introduce them to the wider congregation.

"We cherish the Church's interests irrespective of reasons or names," said Bishop Yoanas, secretary to the late Pope Shenouda.

Bishop Baphnotius of Samalut said he did not object to his own elimination: "The process of choosing the pope is based on the rules, traditions and customs of the Church".

A number of bishops avoided running for the top job because it comes at a time when Copts are facing many political and social problems. Bishop Beeman of Qos and Naqada said the 118th Coptic pope will take the helm of the Church at a sensitive time in the history of Egypt and the Coptic Church. He is expected to see "harsh days", he said.

During a visit to the Austrian capital Vienna, Beeman said the state will not interfere in the choice of the new pope and denied any pressure to choose a particular candidate. The Church, he continued, faces difficult times looking after its congregation in the current circumstances facing Egypt.

"The election cannot be manipulated," Beeman noted. "Everyone will remain alert and guard the ballot boxes. The name draw will be from a glass box and all the other folded papers will be opened after the winner is chosen."

Of the five shortlisted candidates Bishop Raphael is popular among fellow bishops and Copts in general, making him a strong candidate to reach the final stage of the Altar Ballot. Senior sources in the Church told the Weekly that Bishop Raphael had asked the Nominations Committee to cancel his candidacy but he was pressured to stay in the race.

Bishop Tawdros is supported by Acting Pope Bakhomious because of his help in serving the Beheira Diocese and his close ties with bishops in the Delta. Of the three monks, Bakhomious and Seraphim are from Al-Siryan Monastery. Father Raphael, of Mar Mina in King Mariout, was a student of the 116th pope, Kirolos VI.

Diocesan bishops, including Bishop Bishoi and Bishop Baphnotius, were excluded from the race upon the request of clergy in the US and Alexandria.

Sources tell the Weekly that the Church will ask Copts to fast and pray for three continuous days to help create a spiritual atmosphere in which God might intercede in choosing the three finalists for the Altar Ballot.

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