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Bomb explosion in a church crowded with faithful lined up to receive the Holy Communion. Egypt’s thorny journey towards democracy

At least 25 died, among them six children; 35 were severely injured in the bomb blast that yesterday, December 11, ripped through the St. Mark’s Orthodox Copt Cathedral in Cairo, in the Al Abasiya neighbourhood, home to spiritual leader Pope Tawadros II, 118° Patriarch of Alexandria. Reportedly, the 12-kg TNT bomb exploded near the women’s section of the church, during Mass service. The attack appears to have been specifically targeted against this place of worship because it is the most ancient church in Africa - the Copt faithful make up approximately 10% of the Egyptian population, almost ten million, the largest Christian community in the Middle East. The condolences of the Pope and of Ahmed al-Tayeb, Imam of al-Azhar University. "They want to destabilize Egypt”, remarked the Copt-Catholic bishop Aziz Mina, who believes that dialogue and the respect of the Constitution are the sole weapons to address the terrorist threat. The choc and the horror of the Copt faithful living in Italy.

The bomb went off as the Mass was being held, while the faithful were receiving the Holy Communion. The terrorists’ intention was to kill the faithful gathered in prayer in St. Mark’s Copt Cathedral, the most ancient church in Africa, a significant place of worship for Christians in Egypt who since 2013 have faced no less than 40 terror attacks that caused the death of dozens people. The bomb blast has killed at least 25 people, including 6 children. Pope Francis immediately expressed his closeness to Tawadros II and to his Copt Orthodox community. Speaking after the Sunday Angelus prayer the Holy Father condemned “the violence that sows death and destruction”, and said that the only answer “is the faith in God and unity in human and civil values” and spoke of the Egyptian Catholic Church. In a short statement the latter expressed condolences “to our Orthodox brothers. We pray for the speedy recovery of the injured. We ask those responsible for security to find the perpetrators of this crime and to stop them. May God save Egypt from all evil.”

The Imam of the University of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the highest Sunni religious authority in Egypt, denounced the terrorist act.

Destabilizing the Country. “The purpose of the attacks is to destabilize the Country as well as national security – Monsignor Antonios Aziz Mina, Copt Catholic bishop of Guizeh told SIR –

Christians are the victims; but they also serve as a pretext to show to the world that Egypt is not a safe Country. By attacking the Christian population they intend to attack the Country’s economy, tourism, sowing terror throughout the population at large. It’s a moment of deep sorrow, our heart is broken, but it’s the price paid for democracy.”

Salafi jihadi groups, active especially in the Sinai, with terror cells present also in the capital, are suspected of being behind the attacks. President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who took power in 2013 after having ousted president Mohammed Morsi, is conducting a harsh repression campaign against them. For Mons. Aziz Mina yesterday’s attack may be considered in the framework of the attacks on security forces in area of the Pyramids. “Also those attacks caused many deaths. A set of attacks against the army and police forces has been ongoing for a long time. The goal – he reiterated – is Egypt’s destabilization. If Egypt falls, serious repercussions will be felt throughout the middle-eastern region.” This requires concerted response, which must not focus on repression alone. “Today the involvement of the democratic and civil movement is more important than ever before. For the terrorists, whichever government takes office is an enemy to be fought against. However – pointed out the Copt Catholic bishop – millions of Egyptians have said ‘no’ to fundamentalism and religious integralism.

Every drop of blood shed by the martyrs for Egypt is a brick in the Country’s democratic reconstruction.”

Abiding by the new Constitution will be a fundamental step”, concluded Mons. Aziz Mina. The steps taken until now were rather cautious, also because fundamentalist activists, present in all social strata, tend to thwart the transition towards democracy based on freedom of conscience and of thought. The new Constitutional Charter is the Country’s salvation.”

The choc of the Copts in Italy. The tragic news immediately reached the Copt community in Italy, 45 faithful – most of whom living in Rome, Turin, Florence and Milan – causing a wave of choc and horror. “People are terrorized – said Monsignor Barnaba El Soryany, bishop of the Copt Orthodox Church in Rome and Turin – we received confused news. We still don’t know who was killed and who was wounded. We are lacking accurate information. This situation causes confusion. It’s a difficult moment that brings to mind what happened in the past years. It’s a very painful situation.” The bishop pointed out that yesterday’s attack, carried out ahead of the Christmas festivities, is a tragic reminder of the massacre of January 1st 2011, in the Saints’ Church of Alexandria. “It was totally unexpected, nobody could envisage such a harsh attack inside a Church during Mass celebration – the bishop said – It’s the first time we’ve been attacked in this way, when priests had just started distributing the Holy Communion to the faithful. In our churches women and men pray in separate areas. We were told that perhaps a woman entered the church with a bag, which contained something. All of this is extremely frightening.” The bishop went on to convey his gratitude to Pope Francis for having expressed his closeness to Pope Tawadros II and to his religious community. “We feel the constant closeness of His Holiness – not only towards our Church but also towards all Christians in the Middle East. He is extremely sensitive and he closely follows our situation. Very few Christians are still living in the Middle East owing to the tragic developments in Iraq and Syria.

We call upon the international community to take action against terrorism.

They are helped by some people. What should be done is to stop the fundamentalist militants and support Egypt’s democratic growth. We ask our Catholic brothers to pray. We need prayer. People are terrorized. Remember us, and not only Egypt. Remember the whole Middle East.”

 

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