Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

A devotional day

Michael Adel attended the enthronement this week of the 118th Pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s Coptic Church witnessed a historic day on Sunday that will be forever etched into the memories of its congregation. After many months of waiting, Pope Tawadros II took his seat on the throne of St Mark the Apostle at the Cathedral of St Mark in Abbasiya in Cairo.
Pope Tawadros, formerly Bishop Tawadros of Beheira, is the successor of Pope Shenouda III who died earlier this year. He was chosen as the Coptic Church’s new pope by a procedure called an altar ballot after making it through the first round of elections in which he beat two other candidates.
Large numbers of guests flocked to the Cathedral during the early hours of Sunday in order to attend the elaborate ordination ceremony, and seating was strictly assigned so that all segments of society were represented. As Pope Tawadros walked into the Cathedral everyone stood up and chanted, “Pope, we love you. Master, we are all behind you.”
President Mohamed Morsi did not attend the celebrations at the Cathedral but sent an envoy on his behalf, Mohamed Rifaa Al-Tahtawi. Prime minister Hisham Kandil and a number of incumbent and former ministers and senior officials, party leaders, politicians and media personalities were also present.
Coptic spokesmen said that they had not wanted President Morsi to come to the Cathedral because of his heavy security detail that could have interfered with the ceremony. One attendee said that “we want to rejoice today without the presence of heavy security. Let him [the president] stay busy with his own business.”
During the ceremony, Pope Tawadros II gave an address that was delivered on his behalf by interim Pope Bishop Bakhomious. In the address, he said “I take on this responsibility with the support of your prayers and assistance so that God may use me to serve all.” He asked for the blessings of the late Pope Shenouda III, “who served his term, and we will continue his spiritual journey as he did the journey of Pope Kirolos VI before him”.
“We are facing a great mission for Christians within and outside Egypt, in cooperation with all other Christian churches and other religions,” Pope Tawadros said. “We extend our hand in genuine love, and we wish everyone well in a world that is yearning for peace, a world we share with our Muslim brothers far from terrorism and crime.”
“We share the suffering of our brothers in Gaza, may God protect them. We send our condolences to our brothers in Assiut for those who died in the recent accident. We understand the importance of joint action in our homeland, and we all want peace for Egypt.”
Pope Tawadros II thanked President Morsi, senior officials, world leaders, church leaders from around the world, members of ecclesiastical councils, and those attending for their kind sentiments, as well as Al-Azhar and the Muslims of Egypt.
Bishop Bakhomious introduced Pope Tawadros II, the new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, by saying that “we will never forget His Holiness Pope Shenouda III who has departed from here, but has not left us because of his paternal spirit, legacy, ideas and love. Today, he has given us a gift in one of his sons, Pope Tawadros II.”
“Our Church is a fertile mother who gives birth to generation after generation. Today, we pass on the trust to Pope Tawadros II, whom we have known since he was a young child. In childhood he was pure; in youth he was chaste; as a monk he was a recluse; and as a bishop he was a servant. Today, I see what the Pope will offer the whole world and Egypt, both Muslims and Christians, old and young, priests and imams.”
“We completed our service [as interim pope] that lasted several months with the blessings of your prayers and service and the Lord’s help. We shall now all return to the feet of our beloved Pope Tawadros. I declare that I will be your son and the servant at your feet, as will all of us in the Holy Synod. There is no power struggle in our Church. This is a crossroads in Egypt’s history and the new Pope is taking on responsibilities, surrounded with prayers, to serve the flock.”
After the ceremony, Pope Tawadros began his tour of the Cathedral by visiting St Mark’s shrine after removing the lavish papal robes and putting on white robes for the mass. Bishop Bakhomious walked in front of him raising his voice in joy and praise of St Mark, joined by members of the Holy Synod.
In his first words after being ordained, Pope Tawadros said that his presence at the shrine was a symbol of the bonds of the Church, beginning with St Mark and leading through to the 118th Pope. These interconnected circles could not come apart, he said, since they were built on love and the service of the congregation.
He added that he had wept during the speech by Bishop Bakhomious, describing the interim Pope as being “of profound character, a teacher, loyal, and always putting the interests of the Church above all else. This makes him a model bishop and a servant for others.”
Pope Tawadros thanked everyone who had celebrated his ordination, “which is a blessing from God and a joyous day for the Church”. He thanked President Morsi, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and other state leaders and politicians, wishing that the day’s good sentiments would last forever.
His message to the people of Egypt, he said, was that “love is the basis of life and co-existence and history is in the hands of God. Everyone should co-exist in love in order to build the homeland.”
Bishop Bakhomious, humbly standing next to the new Pope, said that his heart was full of joy after God had chosen Bishop Tawadros. The new Pope “has broad spiritual experience, is a thinker, is disciplined, and God is his companion in everything,” he said. Bakhomious pointed to the papal sceptre and said that it was a gift from the Pope’s supporters and part of the history of the ceremony that confirmed the congregation was in the hands of God.
Politicians and others present praised the ceremony as a model of love when they saw Bakhomious kneel down and kiss the hand of his former student, the new Pope. “When Bishop Bakhomious talked about being the servant of the Pope and at his feet, it was a model of love such that I have never witnessed before,” said Mazhar Shahine, a cleric at the Omar Makram Mosque in Cairo who is also known as the “preacher of the revolution”.
“It is a model of self-denial and disregard for titles, and it is something that everyone should emulate in order to help the country to advance. The Church showed itself today as a shining and proud example.”
After visiting the shrine, the new Pope and a procession of deacons headed to the papal seat amid hymns of praise in order to receive well-wishers, including bishops and public and political figures. “All Egyptians have participated in the national celebration of the enthronement of the new Pope,” said former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who attended the ceremony.
“He is a key national symbol, and he represents one of the nation’s safety valves. Today, he is shouldering a heavy burden by following in the footsteps of Pope Shenouda III, who was a true patriot, and I hope that all Egyptians will continue on the path of the national Church with the new Pope through this difficult phase in the country’s history,” Sabahi said.
“The country must be united in order to be saved in these difficult times and to emerge as a homeland that values equality for all Egyptians.”
Political activist George Ishaak, coordinator of the Kifaya Movement, described the new Pope’s speech delivered by Bishop Bakhomious as “promising because of its spiritual content and its confirmation that the Church is adopting a new way to support its original purpose of spiritual service, while facing difficult challenges such as the papal election process and the personal status law.”
Ishaak added that the withdrawal of the Church from the constituent assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution was “part of the move by nationalist forces that met today at the headquarters of the Wafd Party to announce the names of those who withdrew.”
Leading Muslim Brotherhood figure and member of the Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee Mohamed Abdel-Qudous said that it was a historic day for Egypt that had proceeded smoothly despite the difficulties everywhere in the country. “The state has focused on this national celebration attended by a presidential envoy and the prime minister, and this confirms the role of the Church as a national institution,” he said.
Lawyers Syndicate Chair Sameh Ashour called the Church’s decision to withdraw from the constituent assembly “a great decision”, and he criticised some religious groups that had called for a boycott of the ceremony, describing them as extremists. This was not a religious ceremony, he said, but a national celebration for all Egyptians on an historic day for the Church.
Rifaat Al-Said, chair of the Tagammu Party, said that the enthronement was a celebration for all of Egypt and that the Church had proven itself as a patriotic institution above all. Al-Said added that its withdrawal from the constituent assembly had been “the right move at the right time.”
Those present also congratulated Pope Tawadros on the ceremony itself, admiring the celebration as Bishop Bakhomious handed over the keys to the Church to the new Pope. Fouad Badrawi, a leading member of the Wafd Party, said that all Egyptian political parties would remember this national day of enthroning a new Pope to represent all Egyptians.
Badrawi wished Tawadros well in continuing the patriotic role played by the Coptic Church, adding that its withdrawal from the constituent assembly had been part of a national trend since the constitution should be drafted by consensus and should not only benefit one segment of the population.
Ali Al-Samman, chair of Al-Azhar’s Religious Dialogue Committee, said that today marked a new phase in the history of the Egyptian Church and that the new Pope had his hand extended to everyone. “This promises to be an extension of Pope Shenouda’s term at this difficult time that can only be overcome through wisdom and dialogue. The Church is part of the national fabric and part of the whole,” he said.
Mohamed Al-Alayli, secretary-general of the Egyptian Liberal Party, said that this was a national celebration for Egypt that did not happen often. “We are hopeful that the new Pope will be a good successor to his predecessor, as we have sensed from recent statements about his spiritual and political vision,” Al-Alayli said.
“We know he has a heavy burden to shoulder during this difficult period, but we are very optimistic after the performance of the Church during the transitional phase of wise leadership under interim Pope Bishop Bakhomious.”
Al-Alayli said that the withdrawal of the Church from the constituent assembly had been necessary because time had been short. Civil forces had withdrawn, he said, in protest at attempts to alter Egyptian national identity, with certain religious currents insisting on forcing on Egypt a constitution that could damage it irreparably.
Former minister of education Ahmed Zaki Badr said that all Egypt was celebrating the enthronement, which had confirmed that the new Pope was a fine successor to the former one. “Today, the Church presented a civilised and loving model of humility, love and not vying for power to the world, which is something we wish for all of Egypt.”
After being handed the papal sceptre and the crown of the See of St Mark, Pope Tawadros II will now need to attend to various pressing issues. These include the decision to withdraw from the constituent assembly, which the new Pope wants to see work by consensus and uphold Article 2 without amendment. The new Pope will also revise the composition of the Church’s Holy Synod and appoint a new secretary to succeed Bishop Bishoi.
He will also need to decide on cases of bishops who have been removed from their parishes, after promising to look into each case individually after conferring with the Holy Synod. Another critical issue is the re-election of lay councils, whose term ended nearly three years ago.
Other issues include the running of the Church as an institution, Church administration and the personal status law for non-Muslims. There is also the matter of an anti-discrimination law and the political participation of Copts in order to increase their contribution to the nation, as well as a single law on building houses of worship and applying the same laws to sectarian issues between Muslims and Christians.
There is also the question of the political participation of Christians and how the Church will handle the nation’s problems in the light of the Revolution, the displacement of Copts and their sometimes forced evictions from their homes in some residential areas. There is also the task of revamping the Church’s Seminary College, Theological Institute, and Coptic Studies Institute, in order to strengthen their academic offerings.
In his first year as Pope, Tawadros is expected to amend the 1957 rules regarding the election of the Pope, including the regulation that all voters have to be Egyptian citizens. Expatriates such as Bishop Elia in Sudan and Bishop Athnasious in France also hold other nationalities.
He will need to amend the regulations of the General Laymen’s Council in order to elect a Council that will empower the congregation. There are also plans to create a media office at the Church and to appoint media spokesmen, one for the Church as a whole and another for the new Pope.
Meanwhile, the secular Christian current in the Church will in the next few days submit a report to the new Pope about amending the 1957 regulations and the role of the Laymen’s Council.
This current wants the Council to carry more weight and to distance itself from electioneering and ban the clergy from nominating themselves to it. This so-called “1938 Group” also intends to submit a study to the new Pope about the personal status law for non-Muslims, referring to 1938 regulations that permit divorce for nine stated reasons.

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