Egypt (MNN) — Egypt has a new Coptic pope to help guide Christians through increasingly perilous times.
After the death of Pope Shenouda III, the mechanics ground into motion picking his replacement. On Sunday, a blindfolded 6-year-old reached into a glass bowl (symbolizing God's hand in the choice), and picked the name of the pope-designate, Bishop Tawadros.
This new patriarch comes at a time when Christians are grappling with a wave of sectarian violence, new Islamist domination of politics, and internal pressures for reform. Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton explains, "There were some who thought Pope Shenouda was too involved in the political process. In fact, there were some who thought he was too close to President Mubarak and to the government during that time period."
In his first interviews, Tawadros made clear what his priorities would be and promised a "housecleaning." Nettleton says, "He–in his first interviews–talked about the importance of the spiritual, as opposed to the political, as opposed to the worldly. So, I think we can pray for him to be a godly leader for the Coptic Church, to be a godly representative of Christians to the Muslims that he will encounter: Muslims in government and other Muslims in Egypt."
He's facing a difficult transition, notes Nettleton. For four decades, Shenouda acted as the Copts' chief representative in public life. "There are some who think this is a religious figure, it's a religious authority, and they should stay completely separate from the affairs of state. However, there are others who say, ‘This man is the representative of Egyptian Christians. If he doesn't speak out about persecution, if he doesn't speak out about religious freedom, who will?'"
While Bishop Tawadros spoke of integrating in society as a scriptural Christian trait, "He talked about the importance of the spiritual, as opposed to the political, as opposed to the worldly. So I think we can pray for him to be a godly leader for the Coptic Church, to be a godly representative of Christians to the Muslims that he will encounter: Muslims in government and other Muslims in Egypt."
Copts are estimated to make up about 10% of Egypt's 80 million people. Many made the effort to make peace with the regimes, but when those regimes were overthrown, it left Christians to fend for themselves within a hostile ideology.
Egypt's current constitution allows for freedom of conversion, but Muslims converting to Christianity are unable to change their religion or their name on their identification cards. Without this change, doors and opportunities are closed to new converts.
However, Nettleton says the circumstances of the Iranian Revolution were similar. While it didn't look great for followers of Christ on the surface, the challenges were necessary to create revival. "We need to pray for a sense of encouragement. I think, secondly, we need to pray for opportunities to witness because there is so much going on and there's so much tumult, and upheaval in Egypt right now. That can be a time of great witness, that can be a time of great revival and a great hunger for the Gospel of Jesus Christ."