Egyptian Pope: 'My Countrymen Must Love Each Other'

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CAIRO -- Egypt's Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the population. Recently the historic church ordained a new leader, Pope Theodoros II.

Last November, the names of three papal candidates were placed in a wax-sealed chalice. A blindfolded boy selected Theodoros as successor to the late Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.
        
As Egypt's newest Coptic pope in more than 40 years, Theodoros now leads a church that has spread to six continents.

Theodoros once served at the Monastery of Saint Bishoy near Cairo. He had just returned from a spiritual retreat there when CBN News met with him.

"I like the monastic life... in the prayer and the praising...this has charged me with new energy, spiritual energy. This is very important for my ministry outside the monastery," Pope Theodoros told CBN News.

He said Egyptians are spiritual, yet he was worried about contemporary temptations drawing them away from God.

"The spiritual health now is somewhat weak due to the materialism, due to the technology," the pope explained.

If their spiritual life is to be strengthened, Egyptians must enter into a relationship with God, Theodoros said. But the country's new constitution may restrict their ability to do that.

"Not absolute religious freedom. But, of course there are some restrictions for this - especially for the building of the churches," Theodoros said.

"Do you think that's going to change?" CBN News's Gary Lane asked the pope.

"Very slight change. Very, very slight. But now it is the same," Theodoros replied.

Pope Theodoros refused talk about Sharia even though Egypt's new constitution makes it the main source of law. He did discuss the kidnapping of young Christian girls. Many are forced to marry and convert to Islam.

"This is very sensitive issue for us," the pope explained. "And this has wounded our hearts."

The pope said Western human rights organizations can raise awareness and bring pressure, but the matter must be addressed by Egyptians.

Suffering is nothing new to Egyptian Christians. They've faced waves of persecution since the first century.

More recently, nearly 100 Coptic orthodox Christians have been killed in Egypt since the revolution two years ago. That's more than the previous 10 years combined.

Theodoros insists the spilling of blood strengthens the Church.

"Through the blood, the Church will be alive, will be strong, will be effective in their societies," the pope said.

Indeed, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has actually helped foster greater church unity.

"I hope the day that all the Christians are one," the pope told CBN News. "This is my dream. And also this is what we find in the heart of Jesus Christ, to be one-the church to be one."

What Bible verse encourages the new pope when he faces difficulties and despair? I Corinthians 13:8.

"Love never ends or fails," he said. "Love never ends. Everything must be based on love, the relation between two friends, my ministry, my service; the church services in every field must be based on love. Why? Because God is Love."

The pope said he desires prayer for Egypt as Christians stand on the promises of Isaiah 19.

"Very important, this chapter for us," Theodoros said. "'Blessed are my people Egypt.'"

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