(The Guardian) - Some huddle in conclave before announcing their decision in a puff of smoke. Others ballot church dignitaries and pray for the wisdom to elect the right leader.
Not so the Coptic church, which on Sunday selected its new pope by getting a blindfolded boy to pick a name from a bowl. The winner, Bishop Tawadros, became Pope Tawadros II. By a quirk of fate, it also happened to be his birthday.
They call it the altar lottery, and it's how the Coptic Orthodox church has been selecting its heads since the 18th century. After the death of Pope Shenouda III in March, candidates from within the church put themselves forward for a lengthy selection process in which 2,500 prominent Christians from both inside and outside the church whittled them down to first five and finally three candidates.
The other two were the auxiliary bishop of central Cairo, Bishop Raphael, and Father Raphael Ava Mina, a monk at the St Mina monastery near Alexandria. Even after the boy had picked out Tawadros's name, the other two names had to be picked out of the bowl too, to ensure transparency of the process.
Sherif Azer, a Coptic Christian and human rights advocate who has been critical of the church's recent political stances, told the Guardian: "The idea behind it is to invoke divine intervention, which doesn't fit with the concept of a democratic election. Some active church members have already discussed reviewing the process, but I don't think this issue will be brought up anytime soon as the pope will serve for a lifetime."
Tawadros is to be officially enthroned on 18 November, but speaking from the monastery where he lives in the Nile delta governorate of Beheira, he told the assembled throng: "The other two candidates were more deserving than me. I put myself in the hands of Christ, who is the true leader of the church."
The new pope will have his hands full in the corporeal realm as he takes over a church that has not yet fully come to terms with the death of Pope Shenouda III, after four decades at the helm, and amid continued sectarian attacks against Christians in Egypt.
Christian blogger Amira Mikhail told the Guardian: "The new pope is entering into a position that places him in a similar situation that each pope has had to deal with in the past, but this time with much higher tension. In general, all high profile Christian leaders are faced with the constant decision between being politically and religiously sensitive to the majority religion [Islam] and the government, and also what is best for the Christian minority group. In the past and quite unfortunately, this balance has not always been found."
His predecessor had always toed a line close to the state, seeing it as the only bulwark against increased Islamist fanaticism and sectarian tensions. This came to a head during what came to be known as the Maspero massacre in October 2011, when 27 Christian protesters were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them and ran over them with military vehicles.
The church's refusal to condemn the ruling military junta led to criticism from within the Coptic Christian community and from revolutionary forces outraged at the silence emanating from the pope.
In a nod to the delicate balancing act he will have to perform as the new leader of the church, Tawadros said: "At this time, we would like to thank the state and the media who paid great attention to this lovely event and have shown us great affection."
Azer said: "I think the new pope has two options: either be outspoken and make the church the official representative of the Copts, openly demanding their rights, or remove the church completely from the political realm."