Copts In Egypt Select New Pope

A new pope of Egypt's Coptic Christian community has been selected Sunday. It's a major event for the Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has a new pope. The selection and announcement was made today. It is a major event for the Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million population. Reporter Merrit Kennedy is in Cairo and she sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: Thousands of Coptic Christians are gathered at the cathedral in Cairo for the selection of the new pope. As mass begins, a challis on the altar contains three papers with the names of the finalists. After a month's long selection process, the future of the church is in the hands of a blindfolded child. He'll draw the name of the new pope out of the challis. The child is selected is at the very last minute.

HAITHEM SHEAHATA ABDEL-MESSIH: (foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: Haithem Sheahata Abdel-Messih is waiting outside the cathedral for the announcement. He explains that last week's election was the opportunity for the congregation to voice its opinion. Now, he says, God will reveal his choice for the future direction of the church.

(APPLAUSE)

KENNEDY: Images captured on state television showed the boy, Bishoy Gergis Mossaad, blindfolded in a blue cloth, reaching his hand into the ornate challis. The congregation applauds as he hands the scroll to the acting pope.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: In ornate Arabic script, the scroll reads: Bishop Tawadros. Sixty-year-old Tawadros presided over the Beheira Province in the Nile Delta. He was the head of a pharmaceutical factory before becoming a monk and is known for his focus on youth service. Youssef Sidhom, the editor-in-chief of Watani, a Coptic newspaper, says he's very capable of dealing with the world outside the church.

YOUSSEF SIDHOM: Bishop Tawadros has many excursions abroad, and he served on many occasions in European countries.

KENNEDY: The previous pope, Shenouda III, passed away in March. He headed the church for 41 years and was an iconic, spiritual and political leader for Egypt's Coptic Christians. His political involvement was controversial, says Youssef Sidhom.

SIDHOM: After the revolution, the rules of the game have changed.

KENNEDY: Sidhom expects the new pope to focus less on politics than his predecessors as Copts themselves are joining a wide array of political groups and movements. Pope Tawadros II will begin his tenure at a time of increasing anxiety for Egypt's historically marginalized Coptic Christians after the rise of political Islamism and a number of recent violent interreligious incidents.

MINA GIRGIS ANIS: (foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: Mina Girgis Anis, a university student outside the church, says that this has been a difficult period. Like many other Christians, he's relieved to have a new leader at the helm. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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