AFP - Egypt's Coptic Christians will learn on Sunday who is to be their new leader after a blindfolded altar boy, believed to be directed by God, chooses one of three names out of a box.
The new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle will succeed Pope Shenuda III, who died in March leaving behind a community anxious about its future under an Islamist-led government.
He will be the 118th pope in a line dating back to the origins of Christianity and to Saint Mark, the apostle and author of one of the four Gospels, who brought the new faith to Egypt.
Nearly 2,500 Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors already voted to select three finalists from an original group of five to succeed Shenuda, who died at the age of 88 after four decades on the papal throne.
They are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.
Their names will now be placed in a transparent box on the altar of Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral for Sunday's ceremony.
On Saturday, the interim head of the Church, Father Pachomius, was to choose 12 altar boys between the ages of five and eight, one of whom he will order to be blindfolded during the ceremony.
Strict measures are taken to ensure there is no foul play during the entire process, before a large congregation and televised. The three pieces of paper are all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in the box.
Shenuda, a careful, pragmatic leader, died at a critical time for the increasingly beleaguered minority, which has faced a surge in sectarian attacks after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The pope serves as the spiritual leader of the country's Coptic Christians, who make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt's 83-million population.
Amid increased fears about the community's future after Mubarak's overthrow, the new pope will be its main contact with Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.
The rise of Islamists after the revolution has sparked fears among Copts of further persecution at home, despite Morsi's repeated promises to be a president "for all Egyptians".
In the latest incident, five Copts were injured in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo on October 28, security sources said.
The violence broke out when Muslim villagers tried to block access to the church as the Coptic faithful arrived for Sunday mass.