Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

A busy agenda

Following his selection for the highest office in the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros II spoke to Michael Adel about a host of pressing issues

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Holy Synod of the Egyptian Orthodox Coptic Church meets today to prepare for the enthronement of the 118th Patriarch of the See of St Mark.
“I thank God for His blessings that I do not deserve. He gave me a gift on my birthday which happens to be the same day as I was chosen pope. I thank everyone and hope to be worthy of the new responsibility. I remember everyone who taught and educated me, including the Church and priests who taught me much,” the future Pope Tawadros II told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Asked about his feelings on his election, Tawadros said: “It is God’s will. To be very honest I wept a lot and I called on God for assistance. I went to Pope Shenouda III’s mausoleum to give me strength and assist me with this responsibility, because all my life I have prayed to God to help me.”
There is no conflict or competition within the Church, said Pope Tawadros. “All bishops are brothers who love one another.”
“The Egyptian Coptic Church is the only institution that remained stable and independent during the centuries in which the country lived through foreign occupation. The Church is always loyal to the motherland and is proud to be Egyptian.”
The pope praised Bishop Raphael and Father Raphael Ava Mina, both of whom reached the final round of the papal selection process.
“They are more worthy than I, and for that I thank them.”
The new pope said the Church was not only an institution of peace and love with a spiritual role seeking the salvation of souls but also has an important role to play in society.
“The Egyptian Church is collegial not papal. It is based on teamwork, and its relation with the state must be peaceful, compassionate, understanding, respectful and appreciative,” he said.
Speaking of his goals after becoming pope, Tawadros said: “I dream of organising the work of the Church from within through by-laws like any other successful institution. The Church exists in society and history. Throughout the world successful institutions such as the army and Church have rules and regulations.”
He added that successful management does not conflict with democracy.
Pope Tawadros expressed his joy that Copts had prayed and fasted for the election of the good shepherd for their church. “The joy and interest of Copts has made me think about how to meet their spiritual needs, liberate them and take care of them,” he said. He added that he feels especially close to the poor. “I used to sit on a floor mat with them and share their poverty,” he said.
Pope Tawadros intends to focus on younger generations. “The youth will have a key role in services, and consequently in society as a whole.”
Commenting on the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, the pope said: “We must continue to co-exist with our brothers in the motherland, our Muslim brothers; this is a big responsibility. I admired the fact that Pope Shenouda was described as the safety valve for all Egyptians.”
“We share a history, culture and roots with our Muslim brothers. We must encourage our children to go out of the Church and integrate in society. The best investment in the homeland is investing in the people. We must busy ourselves with what brings together the children of the same nation, not what separates them.”
“The coming phase requires scrutiny and my background in pharmaceuticals taught me to pay attention to details. I am happy with my Church education. It is the reason for everything. The Church environment helped me to love the Church.”
Regarding Coptic expatriates, the pope expressed his hope that an academy for expatriate Copts be established in Egypt to teach them about their culture and history. The pope concluded: “We learned a lot from my predecessors the late Pope Shenouda III and Pope Kirolos VI. I thank God for the blessings He bestowed upon me. I recall everything I learned at the hands of my teachers since the day I began to serve. I convey all my love and gratitude to His Grace Bishop Bakhomious of Beheira for leading the Church wisely in the months following the death of Pope Shenouda III.”

CHOOSING THE NEW POPE: As the clock struck eight on Sunday the bells of St Mark Cathedral in Abbasiya rang out announcing the beginning of the mass that preceded the Altar Ballot at which Pope Shenouda III’s successor would be chosen. Those invited to attend the mass arrived, along with the Coptic bishops from across Egypt and overseas.
After the liturgy acting pope Bishop Bakhomious announced the name of the child who would lead the Altar Ballot. He then displayed three pieces of white paper, each containing the name of a candidate — Bishop Raphael of Central Cairo, Bishop Tawadros of Beheira and Father Raphael Ava Mina.
In front of the congregation, Bishop Bakhomious folded the three pieces of paper and placed them in a glass chalice and asked the congregation to pray. The child was then blindfolded and stood in front of the chalice from which he picked the name of the new pope.
The ballot was first conducted in such a manner in the earliest days of the Church. It is a tradition that was resurrected for the election of Pope Kirolos and Pope Shenouda.
As soon as the announcement was made, the Cathedral and Coptic homes were filled with tears of joy.
After the Altar Ballot ceremony concluded, the name of the new pope was sent to the presidency after it was signed by the bishops of the Holy Synod and the Lay Council.

MESSAGE FROM THE TEACHER TO HIS PUPIL THE POPE: The hand of Bishop Bakhomious was shaking slightly as he unfolded the paper with the name of the new pope, a man who was once his pupil.
“Bishop Tawadros is humble and cultured, flexible and has compassion for others. He has many characteristics that make him popular among other bishops,” Bakhomious told the Weekly.
“All the candidates nominated for the papacy are talented,” Bakhomious added. “There is no such thing as conflict inside the Church. And while there is no campaigning in papal elections, candidates did tour the provinces to introduce themselves to the congregation.”
In response to calls by some Coptic youth groups not to invite President Mohamed Morsi to the enthronement ceremony, Bakhomious said: “We have a commandment to respect presidents; he is honoured by God and we will welcome him if his schedule allows him to attend.”

THE MAIN PROTAGONIST OF THE ALTAR BALLOT: A boy entered the history of the Church on Sunday and has become the most famous child among Copts. He is the central character in the Altar Ballot process: Bishoi Girgis Mosaad. “Before my hand felt the chosen glass ball I strongly wanted the new pope to be Pope Tawadros,” Mosaad told the Weekly. “I thank the Lord that he was chosen as the next pope, just as I had hoped.” He was nervous so he did not say much more, except repeating: “Thank the Lord; I am very happy”.

MILESTONES IN THE POPE’S LIFE: Pope Tawadros II was born on 5 November 1952 in a simple house on Al-Mawazeen Street in Damanhour. His father, Sobhi Baki Suleiman, had moved the family from Mansoura when he took a job in the government surveying office in Damanhour. He died when his son was a boy, leaving Wagih and two daughters with their mother.
As a child, Wagih attended the Church of the Archangel where he served. An avid reader, he paid long visits to the Church library. Later, he studied pharmaceuticals at Alexandria University.
Wagih was well known for his quick wit, intelligence, humility and love of children. He received a BSc in pharmaceuticals in 1975 and later worked as the manager of a state-owned pharmaceutical factory in Damanhour. He joined the priesthood on 31 July 1988 and adopted the name Tawadros.

THE BISHOPS SPEAK… Bishop Yoanas told the Weekly that Pope Tawadros II has a good reputation inside the Church. He describes Tawadros as poised, intellectual and humble. “We will all serve with him. I am willing to serve in any way he asks,” said Yoanas.
Pope Tawadros II, says Bishop Thodosios of Giza, is a wise and calm man. Thodosios asked God to grant Tawadros His blessings and wisdom to shepherd the Church through Him and spread love and peace among Egyptians.
Bishop Lucas of Abnub, Al-Fath and new Assiut, says there are many issues facing the new pope, personal status by-laws, promoting co-citizenship and fostering relations between Muslims and Christians.
Bishop Thomas of Al-Qusiya described Pope Tawadros II as intellectual and an innovator, skills that will aid him in addressing the problems he will face as pope. He added that the new pope was open minded, and will be able to forge strong ties with other denominations.  

CHALLENGES FACING THE POPE: A number of sensitive issues face the new pope: they include regulations concerning the building of new churches and a unified law on houses of worship that has yet to emerge after many years of discussion, the personal status laws, issues of divorce and marriage and demands by Copts to visit Jerusalem.
Tawadros replaces the charismatic Pope Shenouda who was popular among the people, Muslims and Christians inside and outside Egypt, as well as influencing those in power. The new pope’s first decisions will reveal how he intends to run his papacy.
The secular current, led by Kamal Zakher Moussa, has drafted by-laws that will be presented to the new pope, including several clauses introducing the position of deputy pope, a purely administrative position, and eliminating the position of acting pope inherited from a time when sects and denominations proliferated.
There is also growing pressure for the Church to become a more collective institution by expanding the electoral college to give the congregation a greater say in selecting their leader. Some would also like to see the Altar Ballot dispensed with.

MAINTAINING NATIONAL UNITY: “We are optimistic about productive cooperation with the new pope, the spiritual leader of our Coptic brethren, and hope he will disseminate good morals and enforce the values of freedom, justice and equality,” declared Saad Al-Katatni, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
“Congratulations to Egypt for the new Pope Tawadros who succeeds the great Pope Shenouda and comes to the helm through a sophisticated and exemplary model of election for choosing a new pope,” said Amr Hamzawy.
“We all pray that the new pope is a good shepherd for the Egyptian Church and assists the country in these difficult times,” said former MP Mohamed Hamed.
Actor Nabil Al-Halafawi said: “Hallelujah, I am optimistic. The moment the name of the new pope was raised, the Muslim call for noon prayers rang out at the same time. Egypt is blessed, God willing.”

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