The empty Papal Seat in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, in Abbassia District in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: courtesy of light-dark.net)
Coptic Christians are to vote for the final three papal candidates, Monday, one of which will succeed Pope Shenouda III who held the apostolic throne of the Coptic Orthodox Church from 1971 until his death in March.
Copts are to choose between five candidates:
1. Father Pachomios El-Syrian: A monk at the Paromeos Monastery (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) in Wadi Natrun, a valley situated in Egypt's Nitrian Desert. Born in Aswan, Upper Egypt, in 1963, he holds a joint degree in science and education. Father Pachomios currently resides in Italy.
2. Bishop Raphael: Auxiliary bishop of central Cairo and the capital's Heliopolis district, a former aide to the late Pope Shenouda III and a member of the Coptic Church's Holy Synod. Born in Cairo in 1954 and a graduate of Ain Shams University's medical faculty, Raphael was ordained bishop in June 1997.
3. Father Raphael Ava Mina: A monk at St Mina Monastery (Mar Mina), located in the Western Desert near the coastal town of Alexandria. Born in Cairo in 1942, Raphael has a law degree from Ain Shams University.
4. Father Seraphim El-Syrian: Also a monk at the Paromeos Monastery. Born in 1959 in Cairo, Seraphim has a science degree from Ain Shams University. He lives in America.
5. Bishop Tawadros: Auxiliary bishop for the northern Beheira governorate, and auxiliary to Bishop Pachomios (who is currently serving as acting pope). A member of the Holy Synod, the Coptic Church's highest authority, Tawadros was born in 1952 and studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University. He was ordained bishop in 1997.
Many Copts have fasted for three days before the voting and are planning a second period of fasting starting 31 October.
The names of the three chosen candidates will be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St Mark's Cathedral in Abbasya district in Cairo, according to church bylaws which frame the papal election proces.
The final selection will take place on 4 November, when the youngest child from the congregation will be blindfolded and asked to choose one of the three pieces of paper. The chosen name will become the new Coptic Pope who will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November.