Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity. But Egypt is home to the Copts, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with roots dating back to the time of Christ himself. Back then, the word “Copt” meant, simply, “Egypt”. But after the advent of Islam, it came to mean “the Christians of Egypt” and the name has stuck.
Copts have never had it easy there. They’ve been persecuted and discriminated against by the Muslim majority for centuries. They’d hoped the Egyptian revolution would change that. But it hasn’t. Instead, the last year has been one of their worst ever. Copts have been murdered by Islamic extremists. Dozens of their churches have been gutted. But we’re going to begin our story before the onset of these horrors -- with a Coptic rite we witnessed, one of the most unusual events in all Christianity.
Like the Greeks and the Russians, Copts are Orthodox Christians, but they have one thing in common with the Roman Catholics: they elect a pope.
And in Egypt, it’s a public ceremony. It all happens in Cairo’s grand cathedral. This was the first papal election in 41 years and Copts from all over Egypt had come for what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It’s the last step in a process that has narrowed the candidates for pope down to three. But the final choice is made by a boy who is blindfolded and led to a crystal chalice containing the three names. The name on the piece of paper the boy picks becomes the next pope of Coptic Christians. They believe his choice is not a roll of the dice, but is inspired by the divine.