During the long, traditional service at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, thousands of black-clad priests, nuns in gray habits, and invited laypeople joined in liturgical chants that rose to vaulted ceilings. They waited with bated breath as the blindfolded altar boy chose the next pope, a tradition meant to ensure that God's choice, not man's, prevails.
After the ceremony was over, and the new pope's picture was flashed onto the screen at the front of the cathedral, many of those heading toward the exits amid the pealing of the cathedral's bells said they trusted that God had chosen the right man for the difficult job.
"We can't see the future, but God can, and he chose the one who can do the best for us in this time," says Mina Samy Awad. He says he met Bishop Tawadros at a church opening on Egypt's northern coast three years ago, and that the bishop was "so friendly. He ate with us and listened to us."
Mr. Awad, a young unemployed college graduate from Alexandria, says hostility against Christians has increased in recent years in ways that directly affect daily life. He grew up with the sons of his grandfather's Muslim employee, he says, and until recent years they were friends. Now, they don't speak to him as much. "Last Easter, when I was going to church, he didn't want to say 'happy feast' to me," he says. "I asked him why. He said, 'I will only say that for Muslims.'"
Christians have long faced discrimination in Egypt. Former President Hosni Mubarak portrayed his rule as a protection against radical Islamists, but at the same time he enforced discrimination in areas like building houses of worship. But since the uprising last year, attacks on Christians have become more common. Numerous churches have been attacked and burned, and sectarian clashes are on the rise.