When Bishop Tawadros is enthroned Sunday (Nov. 18) as the 118th pope of the ancient Egyptian Coptic Church, Toledo will be represented at the Cairo ceremony.
Rev. John Ragheb, pastor of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in suburban Monclova, left for Egypt on Monday (Nov. 12) to attend the enthronement ceremony in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral.
“I am going to meet him personally, congratulate him, and send the congratulations from the congregation of St. George Church,” Ragheb said in an interview before leaving for Cairo. “And I will invite him to come and visit us.”
The Coptic priest said he is confident that the future Pope Tawadros II will make the trip to Toledo, as did his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who consecrated St. George Church on Aug. 31, 2002.
Ragheb was appointed by Pope Shenouda in 2009 as the first full-time pastor of St. George, which has about 50 families on its rolls.
Pope Shenouda died on St. Patrick’s Day at age 88 after leading the world’s 30 million Coptic Christians for more than 40 years. He had been hospitalized a number of times at the Cleveland Clinic, including for kidney treatment, and local Copts spent many hours visiting and getting to know the late pope while he was in Ohio. His last trip to Cleveland was in January, just two months before he died.
Ragheb said he and other local Copts are excited that Bishop Tawadros was selected to succeed Pope Shenouda through the denomination’s unique “Holy Altar Lottery” on Nov. 4, the pope-elect’s 60th birthday.
“He’s a very spiritual person. He is very organized and very knowledgeable,” Ragheb said. “He knows exactly what is happening in the church and in the country, and we are very proud that God picked him. We believe that God is the one who picked him.”
The selection process for the new Coptic pope, unlike the election of Egypt’s political leaders, was clearly delineated and carefully followed. The process was as transparent as possible, with public input throughout and every church ballot protected and accounted for.
A group of 2,400 prominent Copts – including Ragheb – had narrowed a list of 17 candidates down to five. Another committee then chose the three finalists.
"I was blessed to be one of the people who elected the new pope, voting Oct. 29 in the election of the final five," Ragheb said. "I didn't vote in Egypt; I had power of attorney. So those people who participated in the election are invited to attend the enthronement as well."
In the Holy Altar Lottery, the names of the finalists were placed inside bowls in a crystal chalice. A young boy, chosen from a pool of 300 children, was blindfolded and then reached in and pulled out the winning name.
The idea behind the Holy Altar Lottery is that God guides the boy’s hand in making the final choice, among three qualified candidates.
The other finalists were Bishop Raphael, 54, once an aide to the late Pope Shenouda, and Father Raphael Ava Mina, the oldest among the three finalists at 70 and a monk in a monastery near Alexandria.
None of the three candidates attended the Nov. 4 ceremony in Cairo, instead praying at their respective monasteries in Egypt.
Ragheb said he watched the elaborate ceremony on television.
“I got up at 2 o’clock in the morning because of the seven-hour time difference between us and Egypt,” he said. “And I watched it for four or five hours until we found out at the end.”
After the sealed bowl containing Bishop Tawadros’ name was plucked from the chalice, the name was displayed for all to see by Metropolitan Bakhomious, the senior member of the church’s Holy Synod who led the Copts as interim papal in-lieu.
The other two names were then removed from the chalice and held aloft for the crowd and the cameras to show that the selection was legitimate.
“Bishop Bakhomious is a very spiritual person and he handled the process in a spiritual way,” Ragheb said. “There was no fighting between people over the election. Nobody was lobbying. Because of the unrest in Egypt, it was more sensitive. But he handled it very efficiently and transparently.”
Egypt’s longtime political leader, President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the nation of 83 million people for 30 years, was ousted in an uprising last year. Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population and are facing uncertain times as the country is governed by a new Islamist leadership.
Ragheb said Metropolitan Bakhomious called for three days of fasting and prayer before each round of the papal selection process, “to make sure everybody has the same goal, to choose one shepherd that will lead and guide the church in this sensitive time.”
Tawadros studied in England and speaks fluent English, Ragheb said. He was a pharmacist before entering the priesthood, and was a monk before being elevated to bishop of the Nile Delta province of Beheira in 1997.
The future pope worked closely with Metropolitan Bakhomious, Ragheb said, learning a lot about leadership from his mentor.
“We are happy that Bishop Tawadros is the one God picked. He has a lot of spirituality and a lot of wisdom and will be a leader for all the people.”
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East. It was established by St. Mark the apostle around 42 A.D. and belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct body since the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Coptic pope's full title is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.