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Monday, February 27, 2017

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"The martyrs give their souls"

“The martyrs give their souls as a present to Jesus for his birthday. Please pray for their families and for us to be strong in faith until the last breath.”

That was the reply I received when I wrote to our devout Coptic friends sending our sympathy and prayers for the Christian community in Egypt shortly after the bomb blast at St Mark’s Cathedral complex in Cairo on 11 December 2016.

At Coptic services women sit on the right and men on the left side of the church. Because of renovations to the Cathedral, the Sunday Mass was being held at St Peter’s and St Paul’s Chapel next door. As the Mass was ending a 12kg bomb exploded killing at least 25 and seriously injuring 49. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared 3 days of mourning.

Muslims are celebrating Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, and even though members of Isis and the Egyptian Brotherhood have rejoiced on social media at the bombing and used Syrian casulaity images to inflate the St Mark's casulties to anger Christians, a spokesperson for the Hasam Movement responsible for attacks on Egyptian security forces denounced the bombing of women and children in a place of worship as contrary to the Prophet’s teachings. Egypt’s Muslim Grand Mufti also reminded Muslims that this form of ‘black terrorism’, which is designed to create sectarian confrontation, is contrary to Islamic Sharia. He has extended his condolences to Coptic Pope Tawadros ll.

The word ‘Coptic’ means Egyptian and the Coptic Church celebrates the Holy family escaping Herod to take refuge in Egypt. The Egyptian Church was later founded by one of Jesus’ inner disciples, the Apostle St Mark. About 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million are Coptic.

Christians in Egypt have long complained of persecution and discrimination over employment, education, health opportunities, church building permits, the inability to proselytize and the government’s refusal to recognize Muslim converts to Christianity. Christians can also suffer abuse, assaults, kidnappings for ransom and young Coptic women being abducted and forced to marry and convert to Islam. There are also complaints that Christians are sometimes wrongly vilified in the news media.

Since the Spring Uprising of 2011, over 30 churches have been attacked or set on fire. Despite Christian support for Egypt’s President el-Sisi and his promise to reduce sectarian tensions, Amnesty International has pointed to insufficient police efforts to protect Christians or find perpetrators of crimes against them. Demonstrators who gathered outside St Mark’s Cathedral before they were moved on by security forces chanted prayers and condemned the Interior Minister and the Police for providing inadequate protection.

Earlier this year my wife and I joined Coptic Christians celebrating Sunday Mass at St Michael’s Cathedral in Aswan in Upper Egypt. There were over a dozen police in body armour guarding the Cathedral with automatic weapons and grenade launchers from behind steel pill boxes and guard shields. Vehicle access was restricted to limit the chances of a vehicle packed with explosives approaching. Yet despite the real possibility of an attack, the Cathedral was packed with devout Christians.

It makes you wonder how many Christians in the West would be as steadfast in their faith under similar threats.
Graeme J Davidson More comments

 

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