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Attack on Christians in Egypt kills 28, including children

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CAIRO — Masked assailants attacked a bus carrying Coptic Orthodox Christians on the way to St. Samuel Monastery in southern Egypt, killing at least 28 people, many of them children, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.

“It is too early to say who is behind it, but certainly terrorists, and the security forces are now scanning the area” to find the culprits, Tarek Attia, Interior Ministry official, told Sky News Arabia, an Arabic-language television station, May 26.

A bus carrying Coptic Christians in southern Egypt is seen after gunmen attacked it May 26. The Health Ministry reports at least 26 fatalities, with at least 25 more wounded. (CNS photo/Reuters TV)

A bus carrying Coptic Christians in southern Egypt is seen after gunmen attacked it May 26. The Health Ministry reports at least 26 fatalities, with at least 25 more wounded. (CNS photo/Reuters TV)

He said three cars carrying the masked gunmen had attacked the bus at roughly 10:30 a.m. in the southern governorate of Minya, a traditional stronghold of Egypt’s Christian community, which accounts for a tiny percent of the country’s mostly Sunni Muslim population.

The attack marked the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Coptic Christians, whose church was founded by St. Mark the Apostle in the first century, and whose community represents the largest of the Middle East’s Christian minorities.

On April 9, two suicide bombers attacked St. George’s Cathedral in Egypt’s northern city of Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. Those attacks killed and maimed dozens in what was the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt’s recent history. A nationwide state of emergency has been in place since.

In a widely publicized visit to Egypt soon after the April attacks, Pope Francis addressed the terrorist violence carried out in the name of a fundamentalist reading of Islam. Pope Francis frequently has said there are more Christians being martyred today than during the persecutions of the church in the early centuries of Christianity. And, using the term “ecumenism of blood,” he has noted how Christians divided into churches and denominations are united in mourning for their members killed not because they are Orthodox or Catholic, but simply because they are Christian.

The pope paid tribute to the Coptic Orthodox Church’s modern martyrs, praying before a memorial in Cairo marking the place where 29 people were killed and 31 wounded in December by a suicide bomber. He told Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, “Your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

After Friday’s attack, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement saying, “We extend our condolences to all the affected families and are suffering with the entire country due to this evil and violence.”

“We hope for the necessary procedures to prevent these kinds of attacks, which degrade the image of Egypt and cause so much suffering to Egyptians,” the statement said.

Ashraf Sultan, Egyptian parliament spokesman, told Sky News Arabia, “This is an attack on the entire society and affects us all.”

Egypt’s top authority on Islam, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, said that “such attacks can never satisfy a Muslim or a Christian.”

An Interior Ministry statement said unknown assailants driving three four-wheel-drive vehicles had attacked by “randomly shooting” the bus carrying the Copts, and that an official count of the final toll was underway.

Local media showed grainy images of bloody bodies strewn on sandy ground, indicating many of the slain had fled the bus trying to escape the assailants’ bullets.

Later, the media showed images of the wounded being taken to hospitals and reported that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was calling for an emergency security meeting to address the attack. El-Sissi had instructed authorities to take all necessary measures to attend to the injured and arrest the assailants, the local media reported.

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Faith means loving others to the extreme, pope tells Egypt’s Catholics

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Catholic News Service

CAIRO — The only kind of fanaticism that is acceptable to God is being fanatical about loving and helping others, Pope Francis said on his final day in Egypt.

“True faith,” he told Catholics, “makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost.”

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The pope celebrated an open-air Mass April 29 in Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium, built by the anti-aircraft branch of the Egyptian armed forces. The pope concelebrated with Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria and leaders of the other Catholic rites in Egypt.

After spending the first day of his visit in meetings with Muslim leaders, government officials, diplomats and members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the pope dedicated the second day of his trip to Egypt’s minority Catholic community.

Arriving at the stadium in a blue Fiat, the pope was slowly driven around the stadium’s red running track in a small and low golf cart, far from the estimated 15,000 people seated in the stands high above. Yellow balloons and a long chain of blue balloons tied together like a rosary were released into the sky as a military helicopter circled high above the venue.

Helicopter gunships circled the perimeter of the stadium, while military jeeps patrolled Cairo’s streets.

Surrounded by security, the pope managed to personally greet only one small group of children who were dressed as pharaohs and other traditional figures. They hugged the pope affectionately as security tightly closed in on the group.

In his homily, the pope used the day’s Gospel reading of the two disciples’ journey to Emmaus to highlight how easy it is to feel disappointment, despair and defeat when one is trapped by a false notion of who God really is.

The disciples could not believe that the one who could raise others from the dead and heal the sick could “end up on hanging on the cross of shame,” the pope said. Believing Jesus was dead, all their dreams died with him on the cross and were buried in the tomb.

“How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas about God, a god created in the image and likeness of man,” he said. “How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life.”

Like the disciples, he said, Christians will never recognize the true face of God until they let their mistaken ideas die on the cross, rise up from the tomb of their limited understanding and shatter their hardened hearts like the “breaking of the bread” in the Eucharist.

“We cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power,” the pope said.

True faith “makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome, but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped,” he said, and it leads to dialogue and respect and the courage to defend the rights and dignity of everyone, not just oneself.

“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity. Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him,” he said.

At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Sedrak thanked the pope for his visit, which, though it was brief, “has overflowed our hearts with joy and our lives with blessing.”

The warm welcome Pope Francis received from so many political and religious components of Egyptian society “is a message to the world that confirms Egypt’s nature” as a lover of peace that seeks to affirm peace in the Middle East and the world, the patriarch said.

Later in the day, before his departure for Rome, the pope met with about 1,500 priests, seminarians and religious men and women for a prayer service on the sports field of a Coptic Catholic seminary in Cairo.

He thanked the church workers for their witness and for the good they do in the midst of “many challenges and often few consolations.”

“Although there are many reasons to be discouraged, amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices, may you be a positive force, salt and light for this society,” he told them.

But to be builders of hope, dialogue and harmony, he said, they must not give in to the many temptations that come each day, including the temptation to expect gratitude from those they must serve and lead.

A good shepherd, Pope Francis said, consoles even when he is broken-hearted and is always a father, even when his children are ungrateful.

Don’t become like Pharaoh either with a heart hardened by a sense of superiority, lording over others, expecting to be served and not serve, the pope said.

“The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful,” he said, and the more they will experience “renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission.”

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Pope, Coptic patriarch honor martyrs, agree on baptism

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Catholic News Service

CAIRO — Placing flowers, lighting a candle and praying at the site where dozens of Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed by an Islamic State militant last year, Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II paid homage to those who were killed for their faith.

Pope Francis, accompanied by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, lights a candle outside St. Peter's Church in Cairo April 28. The pope lit the candle in remembrance of victims of a December 2016 bombing inside the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis, accompanied by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, lights a candle outside St. Peter’s Church in Cairo April 28. The pope lit the candle in remembrance of victims of a December 2016 bombing inside the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros walked in a short procession to the Church of St. Peter, where 29 people died and 31 were wounded Dec. 11. The faithful chanted a song of martyrs, and some clashed cymbals under the darkened evening sky.

Inside the small church, the leaders of several other Christian communities in Egypt as well as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople sat before the congregation, which included family members of the victims.

A portion of one wall of the complex was splattered with blood, and pictures of those killed, many with bright smiles to the camera, were hung above. Some of the church’s stone columns were pock-marked from the debris or shrapnel sent flying from the explosion.

Each of the eight Christian leaders seated before the congregation, beginning with Pope Francis, read a verse from the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros then each said a few words in prayer, and everyone shared a sign of peace.

Led by Pope Francis, the eight leaders went to the back of the church, where each lit a small candle and placed white flowers beneath the photos of the martyrs. Pope Francis leaned low to touch the blood-stained wall and made the sign of the cross.

Earlier, in a historic and significant move toward greater Christian unity, Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis signed an agreement to end a longtime disagreement between the two churches over the sacrament of baptism.

The Coptic Orthodox Church had required new members joining from most non-Coptic churches, including those who had previously been baptized as Catholic, to be baptized again.

The Catholic Church recognizes all Christian baptisms performed with water and in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Orthodox who enter the Catholic Church are received as full members, but not baptized again.

In the joint declaration, the two leaders “mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our churches for any person who wishes to join the other.”

The document was signed during a courtesy visit with Pope Tawadros at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral April 28.

In his speech to Pope Tawadros and other Coptic Orthodox leaders, Pope Francis said, “The innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.” He told them it was that innocent blood “that united us.”

“Your sufferings are also our sufferings,” he said, the first day of a two-day visit to Egypt’s capital.

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil?”

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil,” he said.

He encouraged Catholic and Orthodox to work hard to “oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and peace for all.”

Pope Tawadros, in his speech, said Pope Francis was following in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who came to Egypt nearly 1,000 years ago to meet Sultan al-Kamel and engage in “one of the most important experiences of intercultural dialogue in history — a dialogue that is renewed today with your visit.”

Calling Pope Francis one of the symbols of peace “in a world tormented by conflicts and wars,” the Orthodox leader underlined that the world was thirsting for sincere efforts of spreading peace and love, and stopping violence and extremism.

Pope Tawadros said Pope Francis’ visit “is a message for the rest of the world,” showing Egypt as a model of mutual respect and understanding.

Despite Christianity’s deep roots in Egypt, which was evangelized by St. Mark, Christians have lived through some difficult and turbulent periods, he said. But that only made people’s desire to love even greater, showing that “love and tolerance are stronger than hatred and revenge and that the light of hope is stronger than the darkness of desperation.”

“The criminal minds” behind all the violence and threats hurting Egypt will never be able to break or weaken the hearts of its citizens who are united and showing an example for future generations.

Later in the evening, Pope Francis was scheduled to go to the apostolic nunciature, where he was staying, and greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo. After dinner, he was expected to greet some 300 young people who came from outside Cairo to see him.

The majority of the 82.5 million Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Most estimates say 10-15 percent of the Egyptian population are Christians, most of them Coptic Orthodox, but there are Catholics, Protestants and other various Christian communities in the country as well.

 

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Church bombings in Egypt won’t stop pope’s April 28-29 visit, says Vatican official

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite recent and repeated terrorist attacks against Egypt’s minority Christian communities, Pope Francis will not cancel his visit to Egypt.

“The pope’s trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled,” Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service April 10. The pope is scheduled to meet governmental and interfaith leaders during an April 28-29 visit to Cairo.

Mourners attend the April 10 funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George  in Tanta, Egypt. That same day, April 9, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (CNS photo/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)

Mourners attend the April 10 funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. That same day, April 9, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (CNS photo/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)

“Egyptians are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit, although the atmosphere at present is heavy,” Father Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, said April 10, the day after the attacks.

The pope’s mission is to be beside his brothers at the time of difficulty. Now is the real time that he can bring peace and hope to the Egyptian people as a whole and to the Christians of the East, in particular,” Father Grieche added.

He said people were uneasy entering churches with metal detectors and other security measures.

“It’s not like going to a normal church. But we need these measures to keep people safe,” he said.

He said after the attack, he celebrated a Mass with 2,000 people.

“The people knew already about the attack in Tanta, but they did not want to be afraid. In the evening, they also came for the prayers of the Holy Week,” Father Grieche said.

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria April 9 for the Palm Sunday service, when an explosion went off outside the church. Security footage appeared to show a security officer direct a man who was seeking entry into the cathedral to go through a metal detector. The man took a step under the detector then backed up a step, followed by a huge explosion that cut off the camera feed.

Earlier, a bomb exploded 70 miles away inside the Church of St. George in Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, during its Palm Sunday service. Estimates say at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two attacks, making it one of the deadliest against the nation’s Christians in decades.

It was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades and the worst since a bombing at a Cairo church in December killed 30 people.

Pope Tawadros told the Italian national network Rai News April 9 the attacks would “not damage the unity and cohesiveness” of the Egyptian people.

“Egyptians are united before this terrorism,” he said, adding that “these vile attacks that hit people of peace in places of prayer demonstrate that terrorism lacks any religion.”

Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, also condemned the attacks, calling them a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

Retired Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Mina of Giza, Egypt, said the incidents were an attack against the nation’s unity, its Coptic Christians, “to remind them that they have no rights, and against all Christian minorities of the country that anxiously await Pope Francis.”

“Despite it all, we will never lose hope. These atrocious gestures make us firmer in the faith and stronger,” he said. “Egypt’s Christians are warriors of hope.”

One Catholic leader highlighted his country’s failure to address the real causes behind the Palm Sunday massacres.

Speaking to “the officials and the wise of this country,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna of Minya said that “you don’t fight terrorism with words or slogans, nor with security or armies alone.”

“What have you done for social, economic, health, political and human justice? What have you done for the poor and downtrodden? What have you done to reform thought, expression and religious discourse?”

In a posting on his Facebook page, Bishop Fahim said that when Pope Francis goes to Cairo, he “will come to say no to terrorism and evil, and yes to goodness and fraternity. Love will never fail.”

Around the world, religious leaders offered prayers.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the attacks on the churches were “unspeakable persecution.”

“In the midst of what should be peace, horrible violence yet again,” he said. On behalf of all U.S. bishops, the cardinal expressed “our deepest sadness” for all those killed and injured, and their loved ones.

“I also express our solidarity with the Coptic church in Egypt, an ancient Christian community that faces mounting persecution in its historic home from violent extremism. I also pray for the nation of Egypt, that it may seek justice, find healing, and strengthen protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities who wish only to live in peace.”

Egypt is 90 percent Sunni Muslim; Christians make up the remaining 10 percent, with that majority being the Coptic Orthodox church. The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population.

 

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

 

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Love Jesus in all who suffer, pope says on Palm Sunday

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus does not ask that people only contemplate his image, but that they also recognize and love him concretely in all people who suffer like he did, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jesus is “present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own. They suffer from slave labor, from family tragedies, from diseases. They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike,” the pope said April 9 as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lord’s Passion.

In his noon Angelus address, the pope also decried recent terrorist attacks in Sweden and Egypt, calling on “those who sow terror, violence and death,” including arms’ manufacturers and dealers, to change their ways.

In his prayers for those affected by the attacks, the pope also expressed his deepest condolences to “my dear brother, His Holiness Pope Tawadros, the Coptic church and the entire beloved Egyptian nation,” which the pope was scheduled to visit April 28-29.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens more injured April 9 in an Orthodox church north of Cairo as Coptic Christians gathered for Palm Sunday Mass; the attack in Sweden occurred two days earlier when a truck ran through a crowd outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15 others.

The pope also prayed for all people affected by war, which he called, a “disgrace of humanity.”

Tens of thousands of people carrying palms and olive branches joined the pope during a solemn procession in St. Peter’s Square under a bright, warm sun for the beginning of Holy Week.

The pope, cardinal and bishops were dressed in red vestments, the color of the Passion, and carried large “palmurelli,” bleached and intricately woven and braided palm branches. Hundreds of young people led the procession into St. Peter’s Square and later, youths from Poland handed the World Youth Day cross to young representatives from Panama, where the next international gathering will be held in January in 2019.

In his homily, the pope said that the day’s celebration was “bittersweet.”

“It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time” because the Mass celebrates the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem as the people and disciples acclaim him as king, and yet, the Gospel gives the account of his passion and death on the cross.

Jesus accepts the hosannas coming from of the crowd, but he “knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry, ‘Crucify him!’” the pope said.

Jesus “does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs or in the videos that circulate on the internet,” but to recognize that he is present in those who suffer today, including “women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded.”

“Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved,” the pope said.

We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace.

Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as the true Messiah, who is a servant of God and humanity, the pope said. He is not a dreamer peddling illusions, a “new age” prophet or con man; he takes on the sins and sufferings of humanity with his passion.

Jesus never promised honor and success would come to those who follow him, rather, the path to final victory requires picking up the cross and carrying it every day, Pope Francis said.

“Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily,” he said.

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Pope Francis condemns deadly terrorist attack on Cairo cathedral

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis phoned Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria Dec. 12, expressing his prayers and condolences for the previous day’s terrorist attack at the Cairo cathedral that left 25 people dead.

“We are united in the blood of our martyrs,” the pope told the Orthodox patriarch, according to a Vatican statement.

A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Dec. 11 after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Dec. 11 after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

The patriarch thanked Pope Francis for his closeness at such a sad time and asked his continued prayers for the Copts and for peace in Egypt, the statement said.

On a December weekend bloodied by terrorist attacks in Egypt and Turkey, Pope Francis condemned the violence and urged people to hold fast to their faith and renew their commitment to upholding basic human values.

After reciting the Angelus Dec. 11, Pope Francis offered prayers for the “victims of savage terrorist attacks” in Egypt, which also wounded dozens, and Dec. 10 in Istanbul, which killed close to 40 people, mainly police.

“The places are different, but the violence is the same,” Pope Francis said. In response to the “death and destruction,” there is only one response: “faith in God and unity in human and civil values.”

The pope also told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that each day in prayer he is close to the people of the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria.

“We must not forget that Aleppo is a city and that there are people there: families, children, elderly, sick,” he said. “Unfortunately we have become used to the war and destruction, but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, culture and faith. We cannot allow this to be negated by war, which is a pile of abuse and falsity.”

Around the world, Christians reacted to the bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex with messages of condolences.

In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that St. Mark himself was no stranger to the persecution of Christians.

“Those who gathered to worship the Lord at his cathedral this morning in Cairo are family to us,” he said in a Dec. 11 statement. “We draw near to our Coptic brothers and sisters in prayer, sorrow and comfort. And we are confident in the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The lives lost strengthen the faith of Christians everywhere and offer a testament to the great privilege of worshiping God in peace.”

He, too, referred to attacks in other countries.

“This weekend has witnessed the darkness of violence reach into many places, including Turkey, Somalia and the church building collapse in Nigeria. But the light still shines! Today let us offer a special prayer for all those facing persecution,” he said.

Egyptian Catholics were quick to condemn Sunday’s church attack.

“Our heart is with Patriarch Tawadros II … and our brother church, and we wish for goodness in Egypt, and call on the heads of state to quickly bring those responsible to justice,” said official spokesman of Egypt’s Catholics, Father Rafic Greiche.

Father Greiche called the attack “a cowardly, terrorist act on a house of God,” adding that “the church in our country is suffering due to the murder and spilling of blood of innocents.”

His statements appeared on Church of Alexandria, an official website of Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church, which accounts for a tiny percentage of the country’s larger Coptic Orthodox minority.

On the same site, Coptic Catholic Bishop Butros Fahim Awad Hanna also condemned the attack and addressed those behind it.

“We tell the terrorist that no matter what you do, Christians will remain steadfast in their faith and in adherence to their country, Egypt” said Bishop Fahim, whose province of Minya is a traditional Christian stronghold in the predominantly Muslim North African nation.

Egyptian TV showed horrific images of the attack’s aftermath: toppled pews and floors stained and covered in blood.

“I thought it was Judgment Day,” said 59-year-old Magdi Ramzi, who was in the back of the church at the time of the explosion.

“It was the loudest noise I have ever heard,” he told an Egyptian TV program.

The bomb, which reportedly detonated in the women-only section of the church, killed his wife, and gravely wounded his granddaughter who was fighting for her life in a Cairo hospital, Ramzi said.

In Jerusalem, Wadie Abunassar, director of the Media Committee of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, called the attacks “barbaric.”

“I was contacting my Turkish friends to express my solidarity with them after (Saturday night’s) attack when I got the news about the explosion inside the church (Sunday morning.) Surely those who are responsible for such barbaric attacks do not know who God is and what his messages are,” he said.

Father Antonious Aloshlemey, general secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, expressed condolences about the attack.

“We are not afraid, but this is something barbaric and inhuman, to do an attack against people who just love the church and God and who came to worship on Sunday,” he said.

 

Contributing to this story were Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem and James Martone in Washington.

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Pope meets with grand imam of Sunni Muslim university

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — After five years of tension and top-level silence, Pope Francis and the grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world embraced at the Vatican May 23.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

“The meeting is the message,” the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.

El-Tayeb’s spring visit was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.

Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

In February, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a letter to el-Tayeb from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, council president, inviting him to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Ayuso welcomed the imam to the Vatican May 23 and accompanied him to the papal meeting.

Pope Francis sat to the side of his desk facing the grand imam rather than behind his desk as he customarily does when meeting with a visiting head of state.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope spoke privately with el-Tayeb for 25 minutes and the conversation included a discussion about “the great significance of this new encounter within the scope of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.”

“They then dwelled upon the common commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for world peace, the rejection of violence and terrorism (and) the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East as well as their protection,” Father Lombardi said in a statement.

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis presented the grand imam with two gifts: a copy of his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and peace medallion depicting an olive tree holding together two pieces of a fractured rock.

After meeting the pope, the grand imam was scheduled to travel to Paris to open the second international conference on “East and West: Dialogue of Civilizations” May 24 sponsored by al-Azhar University and the Catholic Sant’Egidio Community.

 

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Coptic Christians slain in Libya ‘whispered’ name of Jesus before death, bishop says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by Islamic State militants died as martyrs, invoking the name of Jesus, said an Egyptian Catholic bishop.

In line with Pope Francis’ assertion at morning Mass Feb. 17, Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza told the Fides news agency that the “diabolical” video of the Christians’ massacre, intended to “spread terror,” was a testament to their martyrdom in the faith.

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by Islamic State militants are marched by armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, Libya, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media Feb. 15. The video is said to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by Islamic State militants are marched by armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, Libya, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media Feb. 15. The video is said to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in

The video of their beheading, released Feb. 15, shows that “in the moment of their barbaric execution,” some of the Christians were repeating the words “Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said.

“The name of Jesus was the last word on their lips,” said Bishop Mina. And like the early church martyrs, “they entrusted themselves to the one who would receive them soon after. That name, whispered in the last moments, was like the seal of their martyrdom.”

Following the news of their assassination in Libya, Christians in the various dioceses of Egypt began praying and fasting, as the government called for seven days of national mourning. Several Egyptian bishops have spoken about constructing churches, dedicated to the 21 martyrs, in their dioceses.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab announced President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would arrange state funds for the construction of a church dedicated to the 21 martyrs in the Egyptian city of Minya, from which many of the victims hailed. In addition, by presidential decree, the victims’ families will receive financial compensation for the death of their loved ones (about $13,000), as well as a monthly stipend. The families are asking that the remains of their loved ones be returned to Egypt for burial.

Al-Sisi, who also has referred to the 21 Christians as “martyrs,” paid a personal visit to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Feb. 16 to extend his condolences. Pope Francis extended his condolences to Pope Tawadros in a phone call the same day.

Back in Libya, members of the Catholic community resolved to stay put, despite the killings and the emphatic calls from various authorities to evacuate the country.

“Few of us remain,” said Latin-rite Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli, Libya. He told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Feb. 17 that many of those who remain are female Philippine nurses, who have decided to stay because of the dire medical needs in the city after the evacuation of the medical staff at the private St. James Hospital.

“It is for them that I remain,” the bishop said. “At this time, the situation is calm, but we do not know how things will evolve. Anyway, as I have said many times, so long as there is one Christian here, I will remain.”

 

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Coptic Catholic leader warns of Christian-Muslim rift in Egypt

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FRIBOURG, Switzerland — The patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt blamed Islamic fundamentalists for the increasing number of attacks on Christians and criticized a growing division between Muslims and Christians since the country’s February revolution.

Speaking Oct. 30 at St. Nicolas Cathedral in Fribourg, Switzerland, during a day of prayer for persecuted Catholics, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, said the links between Muslims and Catholics that were reinforced in the period just after the revolution have deteriorated.

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