10/15/2012, 00.00
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Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church quickly chooses date for the election of Shenouda III's successor

by André Azzam
Choice falls on 24 November. The proceedings to pick the five candidates to the Patriarchal See ended yesterday. The speed of the consultations reflects the need to give Copts a new leader in an Islamist-dominated Egypt. On 24 November, 2,405 representatives of the Church and laity will choose three names out of the five. The final ceremony is scheduled for 2 December at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria.

Cairo - A sudden turn of events surprised everyone today as concerning the election of the Pope of Alexandria and new Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The electoral commission started its work on 4 October to study the case file of the 17 candidates submitted. The result had to be announced by mid-November with the choice of five to seven of them in order to present them for the elections that was foreseen for 24 November, when 2,405 electors have to choose three names out of the previous ones. This election is to be followed by the altar drawing of lots which is due to choose one of the three names, choice inspired by God's will, since an innocent child of two years has to draw one of the three names.

The surprise happened today when was published the decision announced by the president of the electoral commission, Amba Pakhomios, bishop in charge for the interim period as acting head of the Church, that the electoral commission ended its study and work by choosing five names among the 17 candidates. Two bishops were selected along with three monks, out of seven bishops and ten monks who were the named candidates.

Amba Pakhomios added in his press conference given in the Amba Bishoï Monastery in the Wadi Natroun, in the midway desert between Cairo and Alexandria (where Pope Shenouda used to reside) that within a week the commission will state if the foreseen dates for the second and third steps in the election would be brought forward before 24 November and 2 December.

Informed sources assert that the electoral commission and the Church were submitted to a lot of pressure to hasten the process in order to have a new Pope as quickly as possible in order to face all the problems confronting the Church and the Copts in general in Egypt at the present moment.

The five candidates selected are Amba Raphael, 52, General Bishop in charge of the churches in the centre of Cairo ; Amba Tawadraus, 60, General Bishop for the diocese of Behaira (North West of the Nile Delta) ; Higoumen Rouphaïl Afa Mina, 70, from the Mari Mina monastery, former pupil of late Pope Kyrillos VI, predecessor of Pope Shenouda ; Higoumen Seraphim al-Souryani, 53, from Dayr al-Souryan (Monastery of the Syrians, in the Wadi Natroun, where Pope Shenouda was a monk) ; and Higoumen Pakhomios, 49, also from Dayr al-Souryan, the youngest among candidates.

Strong names have been put aside like Amba Bishoï, 70, secretary of the Holy Synod and bishop of Damietta and Kafr al-Shaykh, and who was acting since a few years as the potential successor to Pope Shenouda ; Amba Yoannes, 52, general Bishop and secretary of Pope Shenouda, backed by all the bishops of Upper Egypt as well as Coptic bishops from South America and Europe ; Amba Boutros, 63, General Bishop and first secretary of Pope Shenouda since 1988, known as the media bishop, as he is the head of Coptic TV channel Aghapi; Amba Paphnutios, 64, bishop of Samalut diocese in Middle Egypt, North of Minya, known to be a good reformist and close to the Evangelical way of thinking ; Anba Kyrillos, 60, Bishop of Shibin al-Qanater diocese, north of Cairo, and the Coptic Diocese of Milan (Italy), who is fluent in Italian. Later, seven of the ten monks proposed as candidates have been ruled out for different reasons.

The electoral commission's duty was to study each case with all the pros and cons presented by diverse people. Criteria as the age and the health condition were examined, but also the written works of every candidate, his reputation, his admissibility by society and faithful or believers, his impact during the different functions and charges assumed, his general equilibrium, his various statements, etc.

Amba Raphael, General Bishop in charge of the churches in the centre of Cairo is born in Cairo in 1958. He obtained a BA in medicine and surgery in 1982 and joined the clerical faculty in 1984, before becoming a monk in the Virgin Monastery of Dayr al-Baramouss, in the Wadi Natroun, where he held actively a medical clinic. He is known for his high spirituality and good preaching, as well as his scarcity in dealing with the media or making any official statement. Very close to Amba Moussa, Bishop of the Youth, he likes very much to share in youth gatherings during summer. He published numerous works. Some rumours say that he is affected by viral C hepatitis. He is renowned for his quietness, his pacifism and his mastery and self control.

Amba Tawadraus, General Bishop for the diocese of Behaira (North West of the Nile Delta) was born in Mansourah in 1952. He obtained a BA in pharmacy from Alexandria University in 1975, and the World Health Organization Fellowship in England in 1985. He worked as director in a drugs mill in Damanhour and got a BA in the Faculty of Theology in 1983, before joining the Amba Bishoï monastery as a monk in 1986. He is the author of twelve books.

Higoumen Rouphaïl Afa Mina was born in Cairo in 1942. He got a BA in Law in 1964. He joined the Mari Mina monastery in 1969, where he became a pupil of late Pope Kyrillos VI, who was from the same monastery. Author of 25 books about the lives of saints and martyrs, as well as on spirituality and rituals, he is known as the "beloved monk" and is backed strongly by one of Pope Shenouda's secretaries, Bishop Ermia, head of Saint Mark's TV channel, which is the official channel of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Born in 1959 in Cairo, Higoumen Seraphim al-Souryani joined the Dayr al-Souryan Monastery in 1993. Having obtained a BA in science, he worked as a researcher in the Namru, American medical research unit in Cairo before joining the convent. There he has been in charge of the library, of receiving the visitors, before being appointed in Honolulu and in charge for 3 years of the Coptic Papal See in the States. He has been attached also for more than ten years in Britain churches, in Nottingham, Wales and Newcastle. He has not been editing any publication.

Higoumen Pakhomios is born in Aswan in 1963. Having a BA in Science and pedagogy, he has worked as a teacher in mathematics. He joined Dayr al-Souryan Monastery in 1992, and was appointed for services in Rome and Turin, in Italy. No publication from his part. He is the youngest candidate for the charge of Pope and Patriarch.

Egypt Church is expecting the Holy Spirit to act strongly in order to inspire the 2,405 electors for a good choice of three candidates out of those five names. Five of the electors represent the Ethiopian Church, the other are all the members of the Holy Synod, bishops and abbots, the members of the Faith Denomination Council, the members of the Religious Endowments Council, as well as a number of nuns, monks, and lay people representing all the dioceses in Egypt and abroad.

Early in October, all the different denominations and Churches of Egypt, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, shared a three days of fasting and prayers for the sake of having the proper chief for the Church of Egypt, who will be the 118th successor of Saint Mark the Evangelist, who sowed in the first century of our era the seeds of Christianity in Egypt, this religious land ever since Prehistory and all along centuries, who created also the monastic life and where most of the Fathers of the Church blossomed.

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