CAIRO - Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church held a sumptuous service on Sunday to choose its new pope who Christians hope will help them navigate an Islamist-dominated political landscape and protect what is the Middle East's biggest Christian community.
In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer, chants and incense at Abbasiya cathedral in Cairo, the names of three candidates chosen in a vote were placed in a wax sealed glass bowl. A child will later pull one name out at random.
Copts believe this long-established process will ensure that worldly influences do not determine the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who led the church for four decades until he died in March aged 88.
Many Christians in Egypt, who make up about a tenth of the population of 83 million, are worried by political gains made by Islamists since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year. They have long complained of discrimination in Muslim-majority Egypt.
"We pray that our Lord chooses a good shepherd," interim Pope Bakhomious, who has temporarily held the post since Shenouda's death, said in his gold-embroidered white robes after placing the names in the bowl and sealing it with hot red wax.