The following is a script from “The Copts” which aired on Dec. 15, 2013, and was rebroadcast on June 22, 2014. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Harry Radliffe, producer.
Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity. But Egypt is home to the Copts, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with roots dating back to the time of Christ himself. Back then, the word Copt meant, simply, Egypt. But after the advent of Islam, it came to mean the Christians of Egypt, and the name has stuck. Copts have never had it easy there. As we first reported last December, they’ve been persecuted and discriminated against by the Muslim majority for centuries. They’d hoped the Egyptian revolution would change that, but it hasn’t.
Instead, last summer was one of their worst periods ever. Copts were murdered by Islamic extremists and dozens of their churches were gutted, after Egypt’s military overthrew the ruling Muslim Brotherhood government. But our story begins before the onset of all these horrors with a Coptic rite we witnessed, one of the most unusual events in all Christianity.
Like the Greeks and the Russians, Copts are Orthodox Christians, but they have one thing in common with the Roman Catholics: they elect a pope.
And in Egypt, it’s a public ceremony. It all happens in Cairo’s grand cathedral. This was the first papal election in 41 years and Copts from all over Egypt had come for what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.