Balancing act for pope in Egypt with Muslims and Christians

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Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks at a special prayer service honoring Christian martyrs in Rome last weekend to tell the story of a Muslim man who watched Islamist terrorists cut the throat of his Christian wife because she refused to discard her Crucifix.

“He, Muslim, had this cross of pain that he bore without rancor,” the pope said, his voice filled with emotion. “He sought refuge in the love of his wife, graced by martyrdom.”

That anecdote — balancing the murder of a Christian by Islamist militants with a Muslim’s love for his wife — serves as a preview of the pope’s message when he visits Egypt on Friday.

Francis is expected to highlight the plight of Christians amid recent violence in Egypt, while continuing his mission to reach out to Muslims. Even for a politically savvy pope, that is a delicate balancing act, on top of obvious security concerns in a country recently attacked by the Islamic State group (ISIS).

Egypt is still recovering from coordinated Palm Sunday bombings of two Christian churches that killed more than 40 people, nearly killed the head of the Coptic Church and prompted President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare a three-month state of emergency.

Francis will lend his support to the roughly 250,000 Roman Catholics in Egypt and insist on the protection of minority rights, including those of its nearly 10 million Coptic Christians, in a meeting Friday with el-Sissi, according to Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian-born Jesuit priest who has seen the pope’s prepared remarks.

He will also meet with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque — Sunni Islam’s most influential training center of imams — and speak at a peace conference organized by the mosque. The pope is scheduled to finish the day by meeting his Coptic Christian counterpart, Pope Tawadros II, who barely escaped the bombings on Palm Sunday.

 “It’s an encounter of consolation, promotion and communion with the small Catholic community,” said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, who is expected to join Francis on the trip. “But it’s of great importance from an ecumenical point of view. And, of course, it is very important for dialogue with Islam, for the meeting with the sheikh of Al-Ahzar.”

Pope Francis denounces barbarity during Egypt visit, preaches tolerance

popeBy Philip Pullella and Mahmoud Mourad

CAIRO (Reuters) – Pope Francis, starting a two-day visit to Egypt, urged Muslim leaders on Friday to unite in renouncing religious extremism at a time when Islamist militants are targeting ancient Christian communities across the Middle East.

Francis’s trip, aimed at improving Christian-Muslim ties, comes just three weeks after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in two Egyptian churches.

“Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” the pope told a peace conference at Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar.

Francis is meeting an array of religious and political leaders in his brief stay, telling reporters travelling on his plane that he was carrying a message of peace and unity.

Eschewing the armoured motorcades normally reserved for visiting heads of state, the 80-year-old pontiff instead clambered into a simple Fiat car on his arrival, and, with his window wound down, drove off into the heavily guarded capital.

“Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace,” read posters plastered along the largely deserted road leading from the airport.

He is the second pope to visit Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, following John Paul II, who came in 2000, a year before the September 11 attacks on the United States that convulsed Western relations with the Muslim world.

While Egypt has escaped the sort of violence that has engulfed Syria and Iraq, its Christian community has felt the full force of Islamist militants over the past six months, with bomb attacks in several churches.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WHTC

Egypt’s Christian minority in sombre mood for Easter holiday

Ragaay prays and lights a candle in front of a wooden figure of Jesus in her home at the Cairo suburb of MaadiMembers of Egypt’s Christian minority flocked to church on Friday but two church bomb attacks on Palm Sunday that killed 45 people have left many in a sombre mood over Easter.

Worshippers from the nearly 2,000-year-old Coptic Christian community attended church services, but the holiday to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was being observed in subdued fashion, according to church officials.

In the city of Alexandria, Christians congregated at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, historic seat of the Coptic Pope, to attend Good Friday prayers. Worshippers passed through a metal detector at the building entrance, where one of the bombs went off.

Rafiq Bishry, head of the church’s organizational committee, said he was surprised that so many people had come.

“We expected that people would be too scared to attend prayers but there was no need for our expectations because there are a lot of people here,” he told Reuters Television.

“This is a clear message to the whole world that we are not afraid,” he said.

Last Sunday’s attacks in Alexandria and the city of Tanta were claimed by Islamic State, which has been waging an insurgency against soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The group has now stepped up assaults on Christians and warned of more attacks to come. It has claimed to have killed 80 people in three church bombings since December.

Maha Ragaay, a Coptic Christian teacher who lives in Cairo, said she had avoided watching television on Palm Sunday, afraid of seeing the bloody images broadcast after the bombings.

FULL ARTICLE FROM REUTERS

Egyptians respond to ISIS church bombings: ‘Your terrorism brings us together’

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(CNN) Egyptians of different faiths rallied together on Sunday in defiance of ISIS, after the group claimed responsibility for two Coptic Christian church bombings hundreds of miles apart.

The attacks left at least 43 dead and dozens more injured, amid grim scenes of hollowed-out churches, with body parts and blood scattered among the debris.
Outraged Egyptians posted messages of solidarity with members of the embattled religious minority on social media, using a hashtag that translates to “your terrorism brings us together.”
On Sunday night, protesters gathered outside Alexandria’s St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral to condemn the attacks, criticize the government’s response to persecution of Copts and demand the resignation of the interior minister.
Egypt church attacks
  • ISIS claims responsibility for church attacks
  • Egyptians respond to ISIS church bombings: ‘Your terrorism brings us together’
Sunday’s bombings came nearly four months after a suicide bomber killed 23 people in a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s 91 million residents, have been the target of increased persecution and discrimination since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Despite tensions between the groups, the country’s Muslim community has frequently shown support for Christians following acts of violence. Images on social media showed Muslims gathering inside mosques Sunday to donate blood for victims.

Explosions rock 2 Egyptian churches, killing dozens and injuring scores more

05899031A reminder why the development of positive inter-religious relationships is so crucial as a counter to the violence that finds too easy justification with the radical fringe. 

 Two bombs rocked churches packed with worshippers in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria on Sunday, killing at least 36 and injuring scores more. The assaults were the latest in a spate of attacks targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority and come ahead of a scheduled visit by Pope Francis to Egypt.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both bombings through the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamist militant group. Egypt’s Christian minority, who make roughly 10 percent of the population, have increasingly been targeted by Islamist extremists.

The first blast in Tanta, 80 miles north of the capital, Cairo, unfolded around 9.30 a.m., during a Palm Sunday service at St. George’s Church. The bomb, police said, was planted in the pews of the church.

Less than three hours later, a second blast erupted near Saint Mark’s Church in the northern city of Alexandria. The head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was presiding over the Palm Sunday Mass at the church, and his fate remained unknown.

The Health Ministry says 36 people have been killed in the attacks, 25 in Tanta and 11 in Alexandria, but the death toll is widely expected to rise.

Both churches were packed for Palm Sunday services. After the attack in Tanta, photos appeared on social media, showing bloodstained walls and shattered wooden pews. Many of the dead were believed to be children, according to initial local media reports.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

Coptic (Christian) Bishop: ISIS Targets Us in Egypt to Divide Christians and Muslims

HG_Bishop_AngaelosBishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox bishop and advocate for religious freedom, said Christians everywhere offer the world a response that reflects the Christlike witness of their brothers and sisters in Egypt.

LONDON — More than 40 Christians in Egypt, known as Copts, have been deliberately slaughtered for the faith in the past three months alone by militants aligned with the Islamic State terror group, which has been waging a brutal five-year war against Egypt’s forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

As ISIS’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapses in Syria and Iraq, it has whipped up its supporters in Sinai to persecute Coptic Christians, their “favorite prey,” forcing many to flee their ancestral homeland, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Holy Family fled, seeking refuge from the terror of Herod the Great.

Egypt’s government has called for national solidarity and condemned these attacks on its Christians. In December, President Fattah el-Sisi and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II walked together in a state military funeral procession ordered for 29 Copts, mainly women and children, brutally murdered by a suicide bomber at St. Peter’s Church in Cairo.

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the United Kingdom and a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as an advocate for religious freedom, told the Register in an interview that Egypt’s Christians need the solidarity of their fellow Christians around the world.

He explained Christians elsewhere also need to honor and embrace the Christlike witness of Egypt’s Christians in the face of these terrorist attacks, which are aimed at destroying Christian-Muslim cohesion, and pray for the conversion of their persecutors.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER 

Egyptian priest praises Muslim support of threatened Christians

EGYPT CHRISTIANS SINAIOXFORD, England – A spokesman for Egypt’s Catholic Church praised local Muslims for helping embattled Christians after a series of Islamic State attacks in Sinai.

Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, said Christians must differentiate between ordinary Muslims and extremists.

“Ordinary Muslims are kind and try to help however they can –  they’re often first on the scene, rescuing the injured and taking them to hospitals,” he told Catholic News Service March 3, as Christians continued to flee Egypt’s North Sinai region.

Greiche said the attacks had affected only Coptic Orthodox Christians, but added that Catholic churches and schools in Ismailia had offered shelter to Orthodox families with help from Caritas.

Greiche said Islamic State militants were now “strongly entrenched” in North Sinai, having been allowed by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood organizations to use tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

He added that civilians were better off not staying in the surrounding military zone, which was now “under attack all the time,” but said he believed the Egyptian authorities were committed to protecting Christians against the Islamist insurgency.

“You can never do enough against jihadist and terrorist attacks, which come, like any criminal acts, at a time no one can foresee,” the priest said. “But while no country can be fully secure, I think there’s will on government side to act decisively against these constant attempts to destabilize Egypt.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CRUX