The election of Theodoros II, until today the Bishop of Beheira, as Coptic Pope was welcomed with joy and thanks to the Lord. This was the fruit of fasting, carried out in three phases and accompanied by prayers, proclaimed by the Administrator Amba Pachomius. It was a first class fasting, that is, with the abstention from food until the mass which took place in the afternoon. All the Christians, the Orthodox Copts of course and the Catholics and Protestants too, took part in this fasting, since this election concerns and interests us all. The Coptic Pope is a symbol for us; he is an important figure with whom we have close contacts. It is for this reason that we accepted to participate in the fasting of our own accord and we were delighted with this beautiful initiative. We followed the whole progress of the election and all the candidates were favourably welcomed, in particular the 5 favourites and consequently the 3 shortlisted candidates, from among whom the new Pope was chosen. All 3 of them would have fitted the position. However, in my opinion, for us Catholics, Theodoros II was the best, the most open and the one with most contacts with the Catholic Church.
How did the Egyptian Muslims receive this news? Did they follow the election or were they indifferent to it?
We have to distinguish between two categories of Egyptian Muslims, as they are not all equal. The majority is happy and very satisfied. They admire the transparency of the Church in the election procedure, the beautiful ceremony for the drawing of the name from the 3 finalists, and they even said that they had learned a lot from the Church on how to carry out elections. Furthermore, they hold this Pope in great esteem, from the very moment that he made a fine speech in his first public declaration during which he presented himself as a man of peace and brotherly love. A man of national unity, a patriot. He asked the Church to not get too involved in politics and to instead take up its spiritual and pastoral role once again. Therefore, this new Pope is seen favourably by the moderate Muslims.
On the other hand the extremists, the Salafite groups, even refused to send their wishes. They posed a number of conditions to recognise him and they even invited him to embrace the Islamic faith, he and all his faithful who, in their opinion, should return to the true religion, or that is, Islam.
Officially the Muslim Brothers sent an extremely positive and friendly message of congratulations, expressing their hope, for the good of the country, to build a fruitful collaboration with the new Pope and with the Copts, against whom they feel no hostility. Therefore, only the fanatical Salafites refused the Pope. In short, most Muslims are favourable and followed the election procedure, thanks to the media that gave considerable air-time to it.
What are the points that still have to resolved in the Church?
Pope Theodoros II will have a very difficult task. He himself has stated that a certain amount of order should be made within the institution of the Church. Moreover, the way of electing the Pope must be reviewed because there are many now obsolete articles, which cannot be applied to the present circumstances. Even some church laymen are not happy about it and ask for a modernisation of this procedure, which foresees a great number of candidates and long consultations.
Before drawing lots, the Administrator Amba Pachomius made the three finalists swear to pledge that, by the end of the year, changes be made to this statute. In addition, there is also the need to modify the code of personal statute, particularly concerning marriage, divorce and the case of remarried divorcees. It is necessary to conciliate the present practice with the Coptic code. It is a reform that the church laymen are keen to see enacted.
The Pope, furthermore, will also have to manage the relationship with the other churches and the present government.
And with a government today led by the Muslim Brothers?
President Morsi seems very open-minded. He has promised to come to the inaugural ceremony of the Pope should he be invited. The Pope will have to fight to defend the Christians’ rights and this will not be a simple task with an Islamist government. Even though he is not well- known it is common knowledge that he is a good administrator: he is a practical organised man. He has great experience and is well travelled and, after all, if the Lord has chosen him, this means that he is the right man. He will give him the Grace to be able to administrate his Church in these not so easy circumstances.
What are the prerogatives of a Coptic Church Pope?
He is the President of the Synod and the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Administrator of all its patrimony. He is like Pope Benedict XVI for the Catholic Church. He is the supreme authority, both spiritual and administrative.
*Born on 4 November 1952, Bishop Theodoros completed his PhD in Pharmacy at the University of Alexandria. In 1977 he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop at the service of the Bishop of Beheira Pachomius, today Patriarchal Administrator. Bishop Theodoros will take office on 18 November 2012 as the 118th Coptic Orthodox Pope.