Copts’ new Pope, Tawadros II, calls for more dialogue and less politics

Pope Tawadros II.
Photo courtesy of lacopts.org
A profile of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s new leader

Giorgio Bernardelli

11/ 5/2012
 Vatican Insider

He was not the candidate who received the most votes: he only got 1623 against Bishop Raphael’s 1980 votes. But of the three names contained in the ballot box, the little boy who is traditionally blindfolded and asked to pick one at random, pulled out Tawadros II’s name, making him the Coptic Orthodox Church’s 118th pope. The new patriarch has a far more pastoral profile than that of his predecessor, Shenouda III. He is also very fond of young people and most importantly, is renowned for his support of dialogue with Muslims.

Tawadros II, nee Waqih Sobhi Bakky Suleiman, was born in the region of Mansoura on the Nile Delta and celebrated his sixtieth birthday yesterday, on the very day he was elected Pope. Other than his degree in Pharmacy from the University of Alexandria, his CV also includes ten years of experience in a state pharmaceutical company, before he went on enter the monastery of St.Bishoy (in Wadi Natrum) as monk Tawadros, in 1988. In 1997 he was appointed Bishop of Beheria and considered to have close ties with Pachomius, the prelate who had led the Coptic patriarchate as Regent since the death of Shenouda III last March.

Tawadros II will be enthroned as the Coptic community’s new Pope in a ceremony which will take place on 19 November. Amongst those invited is Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood. The new Patriarch gave the world a taste of what kind of a leader he would be in an interview with French daily Catholic newspaper La Croix. “My priority will be to confirm the spiritual role of the Church – he explained. - We have two roles: a spiritual one and a social one. Today the Church plays both these roles but certain circumstances have created confusion and I want to clear things up.”Under his predecessor, Tawadros II explained, “the Coptic Church was forced to take on a political role,” because of the discrimination Copts suffered under Mubarak. But this - Tawadros II insisted - cannot be the Egyptian Church’s priority.

In the interview, the new patriarch naturally spoke about relations with Muslims, defining them as “excellent”. He put the tensions between Copts and Islamists down to “the “open door” politics which as of 1973 allowed many Egyptians to go to work in Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabi Islam is practices. But - he was keen to emphasise - there is not much room for this tendency in Egypt, where the majority are moderates. My approach to Islam - he added - will be one of peace, love and deep respect.”

The Coptic Pope was very clear about his stance on two issues in particular. One of these is the role of Sharia law in the new Constitution which is being discussed in Egypt: “Article 2 of the Constitution of 1971 will evidently remain as it is, - he explained – with Sharia as the Constitution’s main source of inspiration.” The Copts see this status quo as acceptable. But if Salafists make further demands, “the Church will oppose this framework and make lay people and liberals its allies.”

The other point is in relation to new churches: “We ask the State to authorise without any restrictions, the construction or restoration of churches - Tawadros II stated -. How can we accept a bureaucracy of this kind in the 21st century? There are cases in which it has taken forty years for permits to be issued and I could mention numerous examples. The question we ask, which remains unanswered is: how could a church possibly pose a threat to the Egyptian State?”

The issue regarding Muslim-Christian relations must not, however, overshadow what Tawadros II sees as the most important issue for all Egyptians: young people’s prospects. “They are the future – he said in his interview with La Croix-: I will give great importance to them in my ministry. We try to teach them languages and a trade so that they can plan their own future. But young people who spent years studying and remain unemployed because they cannot find work, are a danger to society.”

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