(Vatican Radio)”He is a very spiritual man and is known to not like the lime light, but we couldn’t be happier. Everybody wanted a leader who could unite Egypt’s Christians in these very difficult times, a man of dialogue and I believe he can do this. He was the only candidate I voted for”, says Michael Meunier, President of the US Association of Copts, speaking to Vatican Radio’s Emer McCarthy from Cairo minutes after the election of the 118th leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, in the iconic Abbasiya Cathedral.
Meunier was one of the layman called to cast his vote alongside clergy in the complex process of electing the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who died five months ago, and who had led Egypt’s largest Christian Church for over 4 decades.
None of the three candidates, nominated in the previous two rounds of voting, were present at the overflowing cathedral for the ancient rite of election, during which a blindfolded boy extracted the name of the 61 year old Nile Delta bishop from a wax sealed bowl. As the interim leader of the Church, Bishop Bakhomious, displayed the piece of paper with the name written in Arabic, the congregation erupted into hymns and prayer of thanksgiving.
“I was very privileged to be there in the front row for this occasion”, comments Meunier, “very few people under 40 will have experienced something like this. We have been fasting and praying for three days in the lead up to today and now our prayers will accompany Pope Tawadros until his official ascending to the throne of St Mark in two weeks time”.
In fact, the newly elected leader will spend the next two weeks in solitary contemplation and prayer. Something that has long marked his ministry, Meunier adds: “He is a pharmacist by profession and had led one of Egypt’s pharmaceutical factories before leaving everything, and leaving the world to head to the desert to become a monk. I guess in his mind he had hoped to live in the desert like our beloved monks here and dedicate his life to prayer. But fate had a different idea for him”.
But Pope Tawadros II went on to study Church management abroad before being called as bishop to the Niger Delta region where he impressed Copts with his skills in communication and constant calls for unity among Christians in Egypt and dialogue with moderate Muslims for the benefit of all society.
“The Coptic Catholic and the Protestant Church was present today and everybody was delighted because they wanted a pope who believes in dialogue, who can bring reconciliation between the churches, represent unified Christian values for Christians living in Egypt. Because we are faced with many other challenges from hardliners, from Salafis, from the Brotherhood, from Islamists”.
“On a whole there is no future for Christians in Egypt without dialogue with Muslims. We have to engage moderate Muslims in the political fight that we face in Egypt, for example the new Consitution being drafted, there are a lot of fanatic elements in society and they are going after moderate Muslims, they are going after women and they are going after Christians. So it is important to have a Pope who believes in dialogue with Muslims because it’s the only way to help promote democracy, religious freedom, human rights and respect for all these values that we hope for”.