As the new year 2013 heralded in Coptic Christmas on 7 January, Copts all over Egypt flocked to their churches to celebrate Midnight Mass, despite fears of radical Islamic threats to bomb churches, and calls for pious Muslims to refrain from offering good wishes to Christians on “an occasion Islam did not believe in”
As the new year 2013 heralded in Coptic Christmas on 7 January, Copts all over Egypt flocked to their churches to celebrate Midnight Mass, despite fears of radical Islamic threats to bomb churches, and calls for pious Muslims to refrain from offering good wishes to Christians on “an occasion Islam did not believe in”.
National TV and all Coptic satellite channels broadcast live Mass celebrated at St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo. This was the first Christmas Mass celebrated by Pope Tawadros II who was seated last November as the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, following the death of Pope Shenouda III last March. Pope Tawadros’s sermon focused on the true joy, reassurance, comfort and peace in the meaning of Christmas, and prayed for Egypt and those who hold the reins of power in it.
Several officials and public figures attended the first part of the Midnight Mass at St Mark’s, in a gesture of good will to wish the Copts and their spiritual leadership a happy Christmas. Traditionally, they leave once the sermon is over, and the Pope has thanked them. The presidential representative, Rifaa al-Tahtawi, attended; as did Judge Ahmed al-Zind who heads the Judges Club; former chief of the Arab League and presidential contender, and current head of the al-Mu’tamar political party Amr Moussa; and Sayed al-Badawi of the Wafd political party.
The heads of all the non-Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Churches in Egypt visited the Pope to offer their good wishes. Thousands of the Coptic congregation also flocked to the cathedral to greet the Pope and obtain his benediction.
Hundreds of politicians and public figures, including the Premier Hisham Qandil, headed to St Mark’s the following day to offer the Pope and the Coptic Church their good wishes. Saad al-Katatni who heads the ruling Freedom and Justice Party issued a statement wishing the Pope and the Copts a happy day, and promising to defend their rights.
The week before Christmas saw the heads of the military establishment, as well as Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of the topmost Islamic institution of al-Azhar accompanied by senior Muslim clerics visit Pope Tawadros II at St Mark’s to offer their good wishes.
Later in the day, Pope Tawadros II left Cairo to the Western Desert monastery of Anba Bishoi for a spiritual retreat, and for meetings with members of the Coptic clergy and the heads and representatives of other Churches in Egypt. Today, the Pope received the Patriarchal Vicar of the Catholic Copts Bishop Kyrillos William, accompanied by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in the Roman Curia who is on a five-day visit to Egypt, and a number of catholic bishops. Bishop Kyrillos told Watani that the talks centred on the brotherly relations between the Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Church in Egypt and Rome, and the current political and economic instability in Egypt.
According to papal secretary Father Angaelos, the Pope will resume the tradition instated by his predecessor Pope Shenouda over more than 40 years, by holding a weekly Bible Study every Wednesday evening at St Mark’s. The previous Pope’s weekly meeting was widely attended and was a highlight on the Coptic scene. Pope Tawadros will begin his weekly meetings on 30 January.
Aborting a bombing
The Egyptian army announced that it had aborted an attempt to bomb the Mar-Girgis (St George) church in Rafah on the Egypt Gaza border. A statement by the military said that three mobile military squadrons spotted two vehicles, one of them a half-truck, parked right behind the church on Christmas Eve. When the military tried to approach them the smaller car fled, but the military caught the half-truck which they found to contain arms and explosives. Nothing is yet known of the owners of the vehicles but, according to the military, they probably belong to the radical Islamic militants the military has been chasing since they killed 16 Egyptians soldiers last August. The military, which also plays the role of the security forces in the area, has heightened security around the church and Coptic homes and shops, and is combing the neighbourhood to catch whoever may be responsible for the vehicles caught.
Mar-Girgis’s is the only church in Rafah which today is home to nine Coptic [extended] families, down from some 17 families before the January 2011 revolution. At the end of January 2011, Mar-Girgis’s was plundered and burnt, but the Copts continued to pray among its ruins. Last September, the Copts in Rafah received threats from Muslim radicals that they should leave town, and several of them were attacked and shot at.
…And in Misrata, Libya
Nothing has so far been revealed of the identity of those who bombed the Coptic Orthodox church in Misrata on New Year Eve, leaving two Copts dead and two wounded. Anba Pachomeus, Archbishop of Beheira, Matrouh and Pentapolis, in whose diocese Misrata lies, has headed to Misrata today after celebrating Holy Mass at his seat in Damanhour, Beheira, yesterday.
8 January 2013
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