A blindfolded boy will on Sunday select the new pope for millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt, becoming his mother’s pride and joy in the process.
Nearly 2,500 eligible voters made up of Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors have already pre-selected three candidates to succeed pope Shenuda III, who died in March at the age of 88.
They are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.
Their names will now be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St Mark’s Cathedral, for God to guide the boy’s hand towards the winner — in the beliefs of the Church and the faithful.
The final choice will be left to a boy, aged between five and eight, explained Bishop Pola from Tanta in the Nile Delta, in the first such contest since Shenuda was selected by the same method more than four decades ago, in 1971.
“A lot of families propose the names of children, that’s why we lay down precise criteria and ensure the faithfulness of the family and the child to the Church,” said the bishop.
Dozens of families have come forward. “I pray my son George is selected to carry out the will of God,” said one mother, Merihan Moros.
On Saturday, the interim head of the Church, Father Pachomius, will choose 12 boys to be invited to the ceremony. On Sunday, he will instruct that one of them be blindfolded.
That boy will choose a piece of paper bearing the name of the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle.
Pola told reporters that strict measures are taken to ensure there is no foul play: the three pieces of paper are all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in a transparent box.
The entire process is also televised before a large, live congregation.
Some Copts say the procedure should be updated. “The faithful should vote after having prayed and fasted,” according to Gamal Asaad, an intellectual in the community.
The Coptic pope serves as the spiritual leader of the country’s Christians, who make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 83-million-strong population.