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Towards the Papal chair
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 10 - 2012

As preparations to select the next pope enter their final stages candidates for the throne of St Mark speak to Michael Adel
Not all five candidates who remain in the papal race will make it to the Altar Ballot on 4 November. Less than a week before papal elections begin in earnest at St Mark's Cathedral in Abbasiya Al-Ahram Weekly met with the candidates to find out their thoughts.
Bishop Raphael of Central Cairo is widely seen as the strongest contender. He explains that early in the race he told the Nominations Committee that he would not run: "At the beginning I did not want to nominate myself. I told the committee 'I don't want to' because I felt it confused people, this business of nominating ourselves. But then I was ordered to run by the bishops and I must do as they tell me."
Bishop Raphael says that were he not in the race he would vote for Bishop Tawadros because they were both ordained bishops on the same day and he is trustworthy.
Raphael underlines the need to form a committee to examine the cases of Bishop Amonios of Luxor, Bishop Takla of Deshna and Bishop Mattias of Mahalla Al-Kobra, all of whom are currently suspended. He also believes that revising regulations for the election of the pope should not be left to the pope alone and that the electoral college that selects papal candidates should be expanded to include all priests, representatives of monks from every monastery, university professors and members of syndicates.
On divorce, his position is that only adultery justifies the ending of a marriage, and that instances of marital breakdown should be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Discussing his relationship with secularists who have called for Church regulations and laws to be amended, Raphael said: "The secularists are children of the Church and are very loyal to it. They are expressing their demands and the Church should take that into consideration within a framework of understanding and give and take."
Asked about the composition of the General Lay Council and the fact it has no powers, he said: "The General Lay Council has constructive not destructive ideas, and its members have exerted exceptional efforts for the papal elections. There is no reason why there can't be new entities. We don't just have to make do with the clergy."
Bishop Tawadros of Beheira is popular among both his peers and the wider electorate.
"We must continue coexisting with our Muslim brothers in the nation," he says. "This is a grave responsibility. I liked how Pope Shenouda was described as a safety valve for all Egyptians. We share the same history, culture and roots as our Muslim brethren, and we should encourage our children to go out of the Church and mix with society."
Egypt, he continues, must concentrate on investing in its people. "We must focus on what brings the people of the same country together not what separates them."
Bishop Tawadros told the Weekly that like other candidates he did not seek nomination, but that bishops and his supporters urged him to stand.
He notes that the coming phase will require careful attention: "With my background in pharmaceuticals I learned to pay close attention to details as well as service. I am happy with my ecclesiastical education because it is the reason for everything. The ecclesiastical atmosphere made me love the Church more."
On expatriate Copts, Tawadros believes an institute should be create that will familarise them with the culture and language of Egypt. He also notes that bishops assigned overseas must have a good idea about the destination they will serve in.
The revolution, says Tawadros, changed many things for Egyptians and makes it imperative that dialogue that leads to greater understanding is pursued.
Father Bakhomious Al-Siryani, who served in a monastery in Rome, argues that the Church needs to imitate the culture and positive aspects of Italy and the Vatican. It is a culture of calm, order and administrative organisation, he says, noting that Italians are always prompt at celebrations such as weddings as well as at work, and are silent during mass.
Whoever takes charge of the Church in the coming phase, says Bakhomious, must respect the sanctity of God's house, learn from the Vatican's administrative system and work with secularists.
On atheism, Bakhomious argues the Church must learn to address the mind as well as the soul and use science to promote belief in the existence of God.
Commenting on the fact that Pope Shenouda was known as the pope of all Arabs and on whether winning the hearts of Arabs and Muslims will be problematic for his successor, Bakhomious says the Holy Spirit will address the problem and that He who does miracles and gave Pope Shenouda strength will also empower the next pope.
On the relationship between Muslims and Christians, Bakhomious believes "we need to build and strengthen bonds between Egypt's Muslims and Christians, especially now."
"We cannot live in a bubble away from the Muslim street."
Bakhomious has the support of Bishop Makarious Al-Artiri and Bishop Michael from the US, Bishop Youssef from South America, Bishop Srabamoun from Sudan, Bishop Thomas of Qusiya and Bishop Agabius of Mawas monastery.
Candidate Father Raphael Ava Mina says God's "hand" should choose the next pope and that fasting and prayers are the Church's weapons "until God picks for us the Good Shepherd".
"After the elections the pope will meet with the elders of the Church, namely members of the General Lay Council, Coptic Endowments Authority and Holy Synod and listen to suggestions about amending the rules [governing elections]," he adds.
On the question of the four bishops who were removed -- Bishop Takla of Deshna, Bishop Amonios of Luxor, Bishop Isaac of Qalioubiya and Bishop Mattias of Al-Mahalla -- Father Raphael notes that the Holy Synod decided to move them from their parishes and it is the only body that can reinstate them. He adds that the decision to remove bishops or monks is the responsibility of the Holy Synod and the Nominations Committee and has nothing to do with nominees. The decisions, he added, were made after fasting and prayer.
Commenting on court cases filed to cancel the elections, Raphael said: "We were relieved when they bowed out of the elections. The Altar Ballot is excellent and ends any gossip about the choice."
If elected, he says, he will forge ties with the state. "We must have communication channels with senior state officials so we respect them and they respect us."
Under Pope Shenouda III, says Raphael, the Church expanded service overseas and worked to instill nationalism. It is a policy he would continue, alongside boosting the Papacy's relations with Al-Azhar.
"We should not take our rights with our own hands, but through love, peace and participation in everything," he says.
Father Seraphim Al-Siryani believes the final choice of pope is God's, and that the Church is built on love, promoting the other rather than self-promotion.
"We all trust God's choice according to His will. The congregation will meet the candidates at masses and five of us will be present in various governorates until election day on 29 October."
Outlining his vision for the Church, Seraphim says many things are demanded of the new pope in the interests of Copts inside and outside Egypt, including real services for Copts abroad.
"I believe the new patriarch must have the vision to resolve the problems facing young Christians inside and outside Egypt."


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