By Essam Fadl
CAIRO: Competition will intensify among five leaders of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church to replace the late Pope Shenouda III, who passed away Saturday.
The Holy Synod agreed on Sunday to appoint the Bishop Pachomious of Beheira as the acting Pope for two months until a new one is elected.
Papal sources told Daily News Egypt on Sunday that the clergymen expected to succeed Shenouda include Secretary of the Holy Synod Bishop Bishoy, Bishop Mousa handling youth affairs, Shenouda’s secretary Bishop Youa’nis, Bsihop Morkos of Shobra El-Kheima, and General Bishop and Shenouda’s secretary Armia.
Coptic thinker Gamal Asaad told DNE that the unique character of Pope Shenouda will make the mission of the new Pope difficult in terms of the nature of the relationship between the state and the Church and the way sectarian strife is handled.
“The death of Pope Shenouda put the Church in a real dilemma,” he said, adding that all these issues will have an effect on the way Church leaders are thinking when choosing the new pope.
“The position of the Pope has become a political position besides its religious nature. That’s why we may witness a huge conflict among the Church’s leaderships during the selection process,” Asaad explained.
According to the bylaws regulating the election process of the new pope, issued in 1957, a council of less than 2,000 Copts will have the right to vote for candidates to succeed Shenouda.
The eligible voters include members of the Holy Synod including the 74 bishops across the country, 12 archbishops, 39 Diocesan bishops, nine heads of monasteries, 15 bishops of churches outside Egypt, and 12 Coptic notables from each archbishopric.
The voters also include Coptic public officials like current and former ministers, members of parliament and local councilors, as well as Coptic journalists with membership to the Journalists’ Syndicate.
The eligible candidate should be a celibate Egyptian Copt, at least 40 years old, who spent at least 15 years of service in a monastery.
The names of the three with the most votes are then written on three pieces of paper and folded, before a child from the congregation is chosen to pick one of the papers.
The name that the child chooses becomes the new Coptic Pope.
The process has no time limit, according to experts.
It took eight months between the death of Pope Cyril VI in March 1971 and the beginning of Shenouda’s papacy in November of the same year.
Coordinator of Secular Copts Group Kamal Zakher told DNE that the character of the new pope will have an effect on the future of Copts in Egypt, and the Church’s relationship with the state.
“Leaderships inside the Church will be very keen to choose a character similar to Pope Shenouda and is obliged to the Church’s traditions, especially that the Coptic general public does not take part in choosing the pope,” Zakher said.
“Due to the ongoing critical political reality in Egypt, the leaders will be keen to choose a character that will keep everything as is, especially when it comes to the relationship with the state,” he added.
Member of the Holy Synod Bishop Salib Matta Sawiris told DNE that “whatever the character of the new Pope, there will be no change in the Church’s performance, because we have traditions followed by whoever reaches the Holy See.”
“If there is any change, it will never happen in the beginning, but will take place later after normalcy is restored within the Church,” he added. –Additional reporting by AFP.