By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Human rights activists have welcomed news that Bishop Tawadros was chosen as the new leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians amid concerns about Islamic leaders and, sometimes deadly, attacks against churches in the largest Arab nation.
Bishop Tawadros, 60, succeeds late Pope Shenouda with a mission to shepherd one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
At Cairo’s Grand Cathedral of St. Mark, the final choice came down to a young boy Sunday, November 4, led to the altar where three names had been placed in a jar.
Blindfolded, to let what Copts believe is the hand of God guide him, he reached for a paper that would reveal the next pope.
With that gesture, Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira became the “118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle.”
“There was such a euphoric reaction when the name of Bishop Tawadrous was announced,” recalled the General Bishop of the influential Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, Bishop Angaelos.
“We now shift our prayers from God’s selection to God’s guidance and grace upon him to lead our beloved Coptic Orthodox Church as it continues its mission to be light and salt in Egypt and throughout the world,” he explained in published remarks.
Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it “welcomes the announcement” at these precarious times for the church.
“CSW would like to offer our congratulations to the Egyptian Church and people at the selection of their new Pope,” added CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
“We are praying for divine wisdom, discernment and guidance for him as he leads the church through this challenging period in the nation’s history,” he said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Tawadros faces daunting challenges as he succeeds Pope Shenouda. The late pope led for more than 40 years, in an uneasy accommodation with the old government, according to church observers.
Copts have expressed worries about attacks against churches that left dozens dead since last year’s ouster of previous president Hosni Mubarak.
In the worst violence, armored vehicles sped into a crowd to crack down on a Coptic protest against the demolishing of a church in Aswan province. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured in the October 9 violence, according to church and European Union sources.
Last month, tensions also rose when a Muslim mob in the village of Ezbet Marco surrounded its only Coptic Church. barring Copts from neighboring villages from entering, Christians said.
As the angry crowds maintained its blockade, two Copts reportedly received fractured limbs in the ensuing scuffle. Police later surrounded the church and diffused the situation by arresting some of the mob, Christians said.
Copts worry similar incidents will increase as Egypt’s new Islamist leadership will mean a diminished role in their ancestral home.
Coptic lawyer Mansour Hosny Fahmy Kezman, who took part in the pre-selection electoral process, said he was concerned about the future.
He told the Voice of America (VOA) network that Copts, who comprise roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 180-million population, “have no good representation in political or democratic work – not even in job opportunities.”
His concern is shared by at least some European Union legislators. Last week, Dutch Europarlementarian Peter van Dalen of the ChristianUnie (ChristianUnion) party told BosNewsLife that the EU should pressure President Mohammed Morsi to respect the rights of religious minorities, including Christians.
“The Coptic church is facing severe difficulties. It’s time that President Morsi is not allowing himself to be lead by the [influential] Muslim Botherhood” group, Van Dalen said. (With additional reporting from the region).