“THESE ATTACKS will not undermine the unity of the people of Egypt. “The words are those of Pope Tawadros II, Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He was speaking to a delegation from our Italian office, which included its director Alessandro Monteduro. The visitors were granted the papal audience the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.
The Primate of the Coptic Orthodox Church – the largest Christian community in the Middle East, numbering approx. 15 million faithful (2 million of them in the diaspora)—believes that the ultimate aim of the many attacks that have bloodied Egyptian soil is to divide the Egyptian people. “But we are very careful to reaffirm our unity after every massacre,” the Pope insisted, explaining that the Coptic Orthodox Church is also taking care of the families of the victims and of those wounded in the attacks. That sad task has prompted the establishment of an ad hoc office for the purpose within the patriarchate.
“We assured Pope Tawadros of our deep sympathy and solidarity with this martyred Church,” said Mr. Monteduro after the meeting, which symbolically took place on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul and at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The day also happened to mark the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the pro-democracy protests on Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The ACN delegation, which spent a few days in Egypt and also included Bishop Francesco Cavina of the Italian diocese of Carpi, was able to visit a number of the places affected by the most recent attacks on the Christian community and meet with the families of the victims. Among them was Maryam, the wife of the watchman at the church of Saint Peter and Paul in Cairo, who was killed in the attack of December 2016. “She immediately told us that she had forgiven her husband’s murderers,” Mr. Monteduro said. He also quoted her as saying: “We Christians know that we are exposed, and we are ready to die for our faith.”
Since that suicide bombing, another four major attacks have hit Egyptian Coptic community, killing more than 100 and leaving many more wounded.
The delegation was able to take stock of the numerous security measures that have been taken to protect churches. “But what struck us most,” the Italian director added, “was the vigor and beauty of the faith of the Coptic Christians of Egypt, who—despite the attacks, despite the terror created by the actions of the fundamentalist Islamist groups—do not cease to flock to their places of worship.”
The Coptic community is indeed a strong one, but nevertheless it needs our solidarity. “It is important for Italian Christians to ‘return to Egypt,’ following the footsteps of the Holy Family,” Mr. Monteduro stressed, adding: “Our brothers and sisters there really have need of us, and it is the best way of demonstrating to them that we all of us together form one Christian community.” In Egypt is also home to a Catholic Coptic Church of some 200,000 faithful.