In the hands of a child: picking Egypt's pope comes down to 'altar boy lottery'

Published November 4th, 2012 - 12:34 GMT
Bishop Pachomios, interim Pope
Bishop Pachomios, interim Pope

Last Monday, 2417 voters chosen by the Coptic church narrowed down the field of potential popes from five to three.

On Sunday, an "altar lottery" at St Mark's Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo, after the 8am Mass, will determine which of these finalists will lead Egypt's Coptic community.

The three finalists who will enter the lottery are: Bishop Rafael, Father Rafael Ava Mina and Bishop Tawadros. 

As many Copts around the world continue a three day fast leading up to Sunday's lottery in a bid to ask God to gift them with a "good shepherd," each of the three finalists voluntarily chose to go to the monastery he was ordained in for a stint of praying and contemplation.

In an exclusive statement to Ahram Online, Father Angaelos Isaac, secretary of the acting Pope Archbishop Pachomios, detailed lottery proceedings.

The acting Pope will write the names of the three finalists in front of the congregation on three papers.

The three papers will be folded, tied with red ribbon, marked with the acting Pope's stamp as well as late Shenouda's stamp and then placed inside a transparent box on the altar to be sealed with red wax.

At this point, the priests will perform the Divine Liturgy

The final step comes when a blindfolded child, an altar boy to be chosen on Saturday, will pick a paper from the box and give it to the acting pope, who will read the name of the 118th Coptic Pope.

The acting pope will then open and also read the other two papers to ensure transparency.

The Church says they received requests from roughly 80 children from all over Egypt to mediate the choice of the new religious leader. A day before the lottery the list of children will be whittled down from 80 to 12,  a symbolic reference to the 12 Apostles, according to the supervisor of the papal elections, Bishop Paul.

On Sunday, Archbishop Pachomios, the acting Pope, will then randomly choose one child from the 12 for the ultimate position.

"The children that will participate in the altar lottery are between 5-8 years old, ordained as an altar boy, and their families have submitted their child's birth certificate and application for this event," said Paul.

He added that the Church only sent invitations to public figures who requested to attend the lottery.


Will the President attend?

Immediately after the new pope is announced, the Church will start organising the ordaining ceremony to take place in St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, on Sunday 18 November.

Bishop Pachomios, the acting Pope, said the ceremony will be international, as the church plans to invite representatives of all the embassies and ministries , and public figures in Egypt and abroad as well as heads of all other Churches, including the Vatican.

"We invited President Mohamed Morsi to attend the ceremony; he promised to attend, time permitting; If he doesn't he said he would visit us later," said Pachomios.

A group of Copts, however, launched a Facebook page to express their disapproval of the idea of President Morsi attending the ceremony, arguing that the huge numbers of security guards required for such visit will hinder every day Copts from attending and enjoying this great moment.

The Facebook protesters also criticised Morsi's performance in office, and held him responsible for increasing 'Coptic misery' since he became president.


Challenges facing new pope

“I am very happy that the Coptic community is very satisfied with the result of the elections and the three finalists, credit goes to God who responded to the Coptic prayers and fasting,” said Bishop Pachomios.

However, Egypt's 118th Coptic Pope, say informed observers, can expect to face a number of major challenges from day one.

Youssef Sidhom, member of the church's lay council and editor-in-chief of Coptic weekly, Watany, said the new pope "must be able to deal wisely with government institutions, Egypt's varied political and religious trends and with other Christian churches."

Sidhom added, however, that the most critical issue facing the next Coptic patriarch would be obtaining state approval to amend the church's 1938 bylaws – which lay down the rules governing Coptic divorce and remarriage – and the controversial 1957 bylaws regulating papal elections.

Coptic activist Michael Meunier, president of El-Hayat Party (The Life Party) told Ahram Online he believes the Church is in need of restructuring. Meunir also believes that the church should appoint a media spokesperson, overhaul the Lay Council to allow congregants to replace clergymen in order to separate the provision of religious services from politics and, finally, to pressure for governmental approval for a law that would ease regulatuions on the building and restoring of churches, to achieve parity conditions with Muslim mosques.


What do you think about the method for choosing a new Pope? Is it old-fashioned or does it work? Tell us what you think below.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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