CAIRO — Egypt's Coptic Christians voted yesterday for a new leader to succeed Pope Shenuda III, who died in March.
More than 1,000 eligible voters — Coptic public officials, MPs and journalists — lined up in Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral, seat of the Coptic papacy, to choose from among the five candidates.
Shenuda III, a careful, pragmatic leader, had died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority.
"We always elect our pope in a critical time in the country's history. The last two popes were elected at the start of two Egyptians presidents' rule," said Shaker Talaat, a volunteer helping organise the vote.
Five candidates — two bishops and three monks — are vying to become the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle.
The Coptic pope acts as the spiritual leader of the country's Christians, who make up between six and 10 per cent of Egypt's 83-million population.
The names of the top three vote-getters will then be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St Mark's Cathedral.
On Sunday, a child will be blindfolded and asked to choose one of the papers. The person selected will be enthroned in a ceremony on November 18.
The candidates are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five candidates at 70; Father Seraphim al Souriani, 53 and Father Pachomious al Suriani, 49.
They have been visiting churches and preaching across the country ahead of the voting.
Copts around the world were asked to fast for three days before the voting, and a second period of fasting will begin on October 31, said Bishop Paul, spokesman for the selection committee.
One cleric who did not make the short list is hardline Bishop Bishoy, who came under fire over some comments he made, and his exclusion suggests the church is trying to keep controversial figures out of the race.
The new pope will take office amid increased fears over the minority's fate after the country's 2011 uprising.
In the latest incident, five Copts were injured last Sunday in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo, security sources said.