Egypt’s Christians between fear and trust in God
By Andrea Krogmann
Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William believes that the most recent attack on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo has stoked fears of further Islamist attacks in Egypt. However, in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the bishop of Assiut said that, at the same time, a “deep trust in God” can be felt among the country’s Christians. Bishop Kyrillos views the efforts of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as positive for the country’s future.
(The Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos William Samaan © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) Bishop Kyrillos, how would you assess the current situation in Egypt from a Christian standpoint?
A) Bishop Kyrillos: The latest episode of brutal terrorist attacks on believers in Cairo has called forth deep sorrow among Christians. We are very upset. It was only on Tuesday that the Coptic church received the 26th martyr of the latest attack, a ten-year-old girl who had died of her injuries. However, at the same time, we are seeing a deep trust in God and great strength. The same can be said as in earlier cases: when terrorist attacks are carried out to keep people from going to divine services, more than usual attend.
Q) How did your non-Christian environment react?
A) We are experiencing a great deal of solidarity and sympathy! Many called or even came to express their condolences. The state reacted immediately and opened investigations. The president himself said that he would not have been able to attend the funeral service for the victims if he had not been able to name a perpetrator. That means a lot, especially when you consider that in other cases, such as the attack on Alexandria a few years ago, there are still no leads on possible suspects today. In those cases, people think that the police and the state are helping the perpetrators. That is not the case this time. A president who personally attends the funeral service and shakes the hand of each family member and all church representatives, that sends out a strong signal.
Q) Did the attack in Cairo stoke fears of further attacks during the Christmas celebrations?
A) Yes, the fear remains. The “Islamic State” has announced further attacks, which means that it is still possible.
(Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II led the funeral for the victims of the bomb that exploded on 11/12/2016 during Sunday Mass in a chapel at Cairo's main Coptic Cathedral © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) Have special security measures been put into place?
A) Those who are responsible for this came to us and asked us for our cooperation. In addition to external security, which is their job, they want to train our people, show them how to be vigilant. Among other things, our scouts, who are responsible for security on feast days, will receive civilian security training from the authorities. Metal detectors are also to be installed in front of our cathedral and our guest house. That is expensive, but important. Of course we know the members of our parishes, but feast days are just the times when many strangers attend, as well-wishers, for example.
Q)Do the Christians feel adequately protected by this?
A) For many years now, soldiers have been stationed in front of a number of the churches. However, the problem is that they are neither very well equipped nor very well trained, so that, on the other hand, many churches are saying: we don’t need them because it does little good. Better methods need to be found, such as better trained and better equipped security forces. However, on major feast days, special measures such as road blocks and increased security personnel are of course in place.
Q) What Christmas wish do you have for your country and your believers?
A) I wish for peace for our country, of course. We see the efforts of our president, who wants Egypt to have a future. These efforts are being undermined by the terrorist attacks. The country also needs peace for tourism, which is an important source of income. If there is no peace, then no tourists will come.
Aid to the Church in Need is helping Christians in Egypt build churches, educate priests and provide pastoral care to young people. About ten per cent of the inhabitants of Egypt are Christians. The majority of these belong to the Coptic Orthodox church. Most of the country’s approximately 250,000 Catholics are members of the Coptic Catholic church.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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