CAIRO — Amid months of sectarian unease, Egypt‘s Coptic Orthodox Church enthroned its new pope Sunday in an ornate, three-hour ceremony attended by top officials from the nation’s Islamist-led government.
Tawadros II, 60, was chosen the church’s 118th pope this month in long-awaited elections following the death in March of Pope Shenouda III, who was patriarch for four decades. The cathedral of St. Mark, the church’s founding saint, erupted in applause when the papal crown was placed on Tawadros’ head.
Politicians, including Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, journalists and Coptic intellectuals, attended the ceremony. Tawadros did not address the congregation; instead, his written speech was read aloud by a member of the church. Tawadros pledged to work for harmony between Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population, and majority Muslims.
“Pope Tawadros is a candid, honest man; throughout the ceremony, he was in tears,” said Hanan Fikry, a Coptic columnist and activist. “This shows he’s genuine, and I hope he will prove to be a good leader for all of us.”
The pope’s enthronement was a relief for a Christian community that has increasingly worried about its rights and freedoms under the Islamist-led government that replaced the secular regime of Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in February 2011.
The day before Tawadros was officially installed patriarch, acting Pope Pachomious officially withdrew the church from the nation’s 100-member constituent assembly, which is responsible with drafting the post-revolution constitution. The church, along with women, secularists and minorities, fears the new constitution will limit civil rights and deepen the influence of Sharia law.
“Acting Pope Pachomious was still in charge this morning,” said Fikry. “He wanted to withdraw from the assembly to make sure the church’s stand was known and that officials knew the Coptic Church would not allow such a narrow-minded constitution to be drafted with its name on it.”
Christians have faced church burnings and other attacks and have grown wary since President Mohamed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, took office in June. Ultraconservative Islamists and jihadists have exploited new freedoms after the fall of Mubarak’s police state and have challenged secularists and moderate Islamists over the religious character of the country.
Morsi vowed to represent all Egyptians. But many Copts, including a young generation inspired by last year’s revolution and less inclined to let the church act as its political intermediary, are concerned that their rights will be ignored.
“The constituent assembly is acting as if nobody else exists in society. Its formation itself is faulty, it is bias and dominated by only one segment of Egyptian society,” said Fikry, referring to the Islamist political factions within the constitutional assembly.