Coptic Pope vs. Catholic Pope

by Joseph Eliot
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria select popes

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria select popes

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The Roman Catholic Church is not the only Christian denomination led by a pope. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, most of whose members reside in Egypt, is also headed by a patriarchal figure referred to as a pope. However, while the two popes share many of the same functions, they differ in several respects, including in how they are elected pope and how their respective churches understand their role.

History

Both denominations believe that their first pontiff was one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus. Catholics believe that, upon Jesus' death in A.D. 33, the apostle Peter became the first pope. All subsequent popes are considered to be Peter's successor. By contrast, the Coptics believe that their first pope was the apostle Mark, who was said to have visited Egypt around A.D. 50 and founded the religion.

Location

The Roman Catholic pope lives in Vatican City, an enclave of Rome, Italy, where his official residence is the Palace of the Vatican. Upon becoming pope, the priest moves to Rome and is given the title of "Bishop of Rome." He is also made the sovereign head of Vatican City. By contrast, the Coptic pope is installed in Alexandria, Egypt, where he is considered the archbishop. However, both popes are allowed to visit members of their denominations in other parts of the world.

Roles

While both popes are considered to be heads of their respective denominations, their exact roles differ. In the Roman Catholic Church, the pope's leadership is considered supreme: He has been granted the ultimate authority to define all matters of faith and morality. By contrast, the Coptic pope is considered the first among equals. Although his opinion is highly regarded, he shares power with other bishops and lacks the infallibility and supremacy conferred on the Catholic pope.

Election

In both denominations, when a pope dies or steps aside, he is replaced through an election. In the Roman Catholic Church, cardinals gather together in Rome for a conclave. The cardinals select candidates from among themselves and vote until a candidate receives a majority of votes. In the Coptic church, bishops narrow down the selection to three candidates. The names are then written on cards and placed in a box, and a blindfolded boy is instructed to pick from among them. Coptics believe God's hand guides his selection.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Joseph Eliot has been a writer since 2007. He holds a master's degree in journalism, with a focus on cultural reporting.

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