Choosing a new pope: Profiles of the candidates

Some 2,400 Coptic voters started casting their ballots Monday to choose the 118th head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the first papal election in 41 years. The new pope will succeed the late Pope Shenouda III.

There are five candidates chosen among 17 nominees — 10 bishops and seven monks.

After an appeal period in which nominations may be challenged ends on 30 September, 12 nominees were excluded. And now, 2,412 eligible Coptic voters will choose three of them to reach the final stage.

The top three finalists will then be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. On 4 November, a child will be blindfolded and asked to choose one of the papers.

The person chosen will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November.

Pope Shenouda III claimed the post in November 1971 at the age of 48. His predecessor, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria, claimed the papacy on May 1959 at the age of 57.

Below are some key facts about the candidates.

Bishop Rafael, 54

Rafael serves in the prominent position of bishop of downtown Cairo, thus presiding over 12 churches. He is the most famous nominee on the media level, making frequent appearances on church-run satellite channels.

He is also known for close ties with youth communities, and the social and educational services he provides for thousands of Christians. Rafael also enjoys close relations with Bishop Moussa, the general bishop and administrator for the Bishopric of Youth Affairs, who maintains a sweeping popularity among wide sectors of the Coptic community.

Also, he was endorsed by the spiritual figure Archbishop Mikhael of Assiut, 91, the most senior member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

In an interview with Al-Wafd newspaper this month, Rafael said he would give more attention to church services and work on attracting the youth to it. He also expressed views for more cooperation and understanding with the state

But despite his distinguished open-minded stances, he still maintains a conservative position on a number of issues, such as rejecting divorce for Christians except in cases of adultery by either spouse. He also advocates for the longtime policy of the late Pope Shenouda III that the church should represent and defend Copts.

Rafael is a 1981 medical school graduate who begun a life of monasticism in 1990. He obtained a bachelor’s degree from a clerical school in 1984.

Bishop Tawadros, 60

The archbishop the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira draws his fame from being one of the church’s dovish figures who always seek a peaceful way out of Muslim-Christian crises in areas under his jurisdiction. He is close to the interim pope, Bishop Pachomius.    

Some, however, accuse Tawadros of failing to defend the churches under his observance sufficiently. Activist Mina Badie Abdel Malek had called for his removal from the candidates’ list because of his alleged “inability” to protect Copts in the areas where he has been it religious official.

He was named by late Pope Shenouda III as archbishop of Beheira in June 1997. He was graduated from the Alexandria University faculty of pharmacy, then from the clerical school in 1985.

Bishop Seraphim al-Suriani, 53

Bishop Seraphim al-Suriani served for three years as Shenouda III’s secretary in the US, and for another three years in Britain. He also served in Canada but currently stays in Los Angeles in the US. He is popular among Copts who live in Western countries.

He obtained a bachelor’s of science before working as a researcher at the US Naval Medical Research Unit, and then turning to monasticism in 1993.

Father Pachomius al-Suriani, 49

Father Pachomius al-Suriani is the youngest among the candidates, a point of weakness for his candidacy. He had obtained a bachelor’s of science and education and worked as a math teacher before becoming a monk in 1991. He was recommended by several expatriate bishops.

Pachomius al-Suriani believes in learning from foreign experiments and co-existence between Muslims and Christians.

Father Rafael Ava Mina, 70

Famous as the “beloved” and the “blessed,” the oldest candidate was close to Pope Kyrillos VI, the most popular pope in the Coptic Orthodox Church’s recent history.

He is the only candidate with a degree in academic fields of humanity and social sciences, having graduated from a law school in 1964. He converted to monasticism in 1969 at Mar Mina Monastery in Marriot, Alexandria.

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