After four months of closure, the church of the Holy Virgin and Mar-Girgis (St George) in the village of Sheikh Alaa’ in Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, reopened on Coptic Christmas Eve —6 January—for the Nativity Midnight Mass. Minya Bishopric sent an official message of thanks to the relevant State authorities for reopening the church.
The only church in the village, the Holy Virgin and Mar-Girgis’s was built in 2015 without licence, owing to the then common situation of the near impossibility of obtaining official licence to build a church, no matter how direly needed; that was before the Law for Building Churches was passed in August 2016.
After works to set up the building in Sheikh Alaa’ as a church were completed and it was almost ready to receive worshippers, fundamentalist Muslim villagers attacked the new church and destroyed a large portion of the interior and furnishings. The police closed the building under the pretext of avoiding violence against the Copts, but caught no culprit.
In September 2017, Fr Moussa Thabet, encouraged by the 2016 law for building churches, decided to reopen it. The church had already submitted to the committee formed by the Cabinet to look into the cases of unlicensed churches, the required documents to legalise its status, and according to the law, no already existing churches were to be closed. Fr Moussa held Mass there; it was attended by hundreds of villagers who were happy to finally be able to worship in a place in their village. But the same extremists who had attacked the church two years ago again attacked it. And again, the police decided to close the building and caught no culprit. Copts however refused to leave the church and, in a gesture of protest, some 70 of them conducted a sit-in inside the church. Bit by bit, everyone started leaving and went back to their lives, only Fr Moussa and three deacons remained in the building for four months, praying daily Mass there, until the decision to open the church on 6 January 2018.
On that same day, 6 January, the Ministry of Housing dispatched a circular to all Church leaders to the effect that according to the 2016 Law for Building Churches, no unlicensed church that has applied for legislation of status may be closed for any reason.
Coptic Orthodox Church sources, very happy at the decision, said it gave a ‘kiss of life’ to the Law for Building Churches. Anba Pimen, Bishop of Naqada and Qous and Coordinator General of the Holy Synod’s Crises Committee told Watani: “This decision has made us very happy.”
11 January 2018