CAIRO — Pope Tawadros II was enthroned as the new leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority on Sunday in a ceremony at Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral attended by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.
Dozens of Coptic clerics in flowing robes took part in the ceremony, the first in four decades, as the Muslim premier watched on.
Tawadros received the crown and crucifix from Bishop Pachomius, who had served as the church’s interim leader, before ascending the huge wooden throne of St Mark embossed with lions.
Arabic, English and Greek mingled with the ancient Coptic language of the church’s liturgy in the psalms and prayers of the service and the tributes of well-wishers.
Tawadros, 60, was chosen on November 4 to succeed Pope Shenuda III, who died in March after four decades on the patriarchal throne. He was chosen after a blindfolded altar boy picked his name from a chalice, according to church custom.
He becomes spiritual head of the largest Christian minority in the Middle East and 118th pope in a line dating back to the origins of Christianity and to Saint Mark, the apostle and author of one of the four Gospels, who brought the new faith to Egypt.
Shenuda, a careful, pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority, which has faced a surge in sectarian attacks after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The pope leads the country’s Coptic Orthodox community. Christians make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 83-million population.
Amid increased fears about the community’s future after the overthrow of Mubarak, Tawadros will be its main contact with Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
The rise of Islamists after the revolution sparked fears among Copts of further persecution, despite Morsi’s repeated promises to be a president “for all Egyptians.”
Copts have suffered sectarian attacks for years, but since Mubarak’s overthrow several dozen have been killed in sectarian clashes and during a protest in October last year crushed by the then ruling military.
Morsi sent Qandil to the ceremony as his representative. The church had initially said Morsi himself would attend, but then said he would be absent as he dealt with the crisis in Gaza.
Tawadros’s official biography stresses his wish for good relations with Muslims, saying he has warned that a draft constitution would be unacceptable if it enshrined a “religious state”.
Egypt’s three main churches have withdrawn their representatives from the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly preparing the controversial new charter to replace the one suspended after Mubarak’s overthrow.
Under Mubarak, the constitution vaguely stipulated that the main source of legislation were principles of Islamic law. The draft charter is set to clarify that article with a stricter interpretation.
Tawadros also advocates further unity between Egypt’s Copts and those of the diaspora, whose leaders have often been more outspoken against abuses suffered by the Christians in Egypt.