10/30/2012, 00.00
EGYPT
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Cairo: three candidates in race to succeed Shenouda III

by André Azzam
These are bishops Amba Raphael and Amba Tawadraus and hegumen Rouphail Afa Mina. On November 4 the next pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church will be chosen from among these. Three days of fasting and prayer ahead of the election. André Azzam

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The election in Cairo yesterday to choose a successor to Pope Shenouda III identified the three names from five candidates. They are: Amba Raphael, 52, bishop in charge of the parishes of central Cairo, who received 1980 votes; Tawadraus Amba, 60, bishop of Behaira, south-east of Alexandria, who received 1623, the abbot Rouphail Afa Mina, 70, of Mari Mina monastery and student of the patriarch Kyrillos VI, the predecessor of the deceased patriarch, who received 1530.

In total 2412 voters took part: of these, 2400 are part of the Holy Synod, Faith Denomination Council and Religious Endowments Council, as well as a group of nuns and lay people representing all the dioceses in Egypt and abroad. To these were also added five representatives of the Ethiopian Church and seven moderators.

The elections were held at the monastery of Amba Rouaiss, Abbasseyya, a suburb in the center of Cairo, home to the great Saint Mark's cathedral, See of the Coptic Orthodox Church, in which Pope Shenouda III received Pope John Paul II in February 2000.

The results were released by CTV Channel, the official television channel of the Coptic Church, at 9 pm. The two monks of the monastery of Dayr al Syrian Souriani, hegumen Pachômios and hegumen Seraphim - the other two candidates in the running - received 380 and 305 votes respectively. These two were also the youngest candidates, at 53 and 49.

Next Sunday, November 4, a grand ceremony will be held in Saint Mark's cathedral with a solemn mass and the extraction of one of the three candidates names. The name will be picked out by will a young deacon two or three years old, who blindfolded, will draw one of the three pieces of paper, each bearing candidate's name.

The names of the three finalists are certainly not a surprise, both in terms of the two bishops and the eldest of the trio, the 70 hegumen Rouphail Afa Mina. In recent months they have revealed a sound unity of vision and a spirit alien to competition for the succession of Shenouda III. In fact Amba Raphael pointed to Amba Tawadraus for election and wanted to withdraw, but his request was denied by the electoral commission.

Amba Raphael, who was formerly a doctor and surgeon, is known as "the ascetic bishop." He is supported by Amba Moussa, bishop in charge of youth ministry, who was also his teacher, and many other bishops, among whom the dean Amba Mikhail, Bishop of Assiout for over 60 years. He is highly regarded by the congregations of the ten churches in downtown Cairo, is very private and not a fan of speaking to media, very confident in spirituality.

Amba Tawadraus, a former pharmacist, is committed to the unification of all the churches and, in particular, the Coptic diaspora scattered around the world. He was nominated by Amba Raphael and six other bishops including Amba Souryal, Bishop of Melbourne in Australia. He is fluent English.

The abbot Rouphail Afa Mina was the personal secretary of the late Pope Kyrillos VI's predecessor, Pope Shenouda, before becoming monk at the monastery of Mari Mina, south-west of Alexandria, from where Pope Kyrillos also hailed. He is known as the "beloved monk"  or  "grace of graces" or the "lion of the desert". Author of 25 books on spirituality and rituals as well on many saints, he is supported by all the bishops who were monks in St Mina monastery, among whom Amba Ermeya, Pope Shenuda's main secretary, who has good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. He  believes  strongly in collegiality. He was distanced a little by Pope Shenuda because of some disagreement between Shenuda and late Pope Kyrillos. He is renowned for his openness and belief in ecumenism, as well as his eagerness for good relations with Islam


Three years ago, on the 28th of October 2009, the late Pope Shenuda insisted during one of his speeches on the importance of the altar drawing of lots, explaining that  this element of the choice of the Pope of Alexandria is vital "because it marks that the choice of the Patriarch is really the choice of God". All Egypt and mainly all the Christian communities in the country . - all the churches have asked believers to observe three day fasting starting on the 1st of November - ahead of the final choice next Sunday and intensive prayers for the right man and future leader to lead the church during the current delicate situation in Egypt.

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