Anba Moussa talks to Watani about the days of the Boutrossiya blast and its aftermath
A few days following the suicide bombing that took place at the Cairo Boutrossiya during Sunday Mass on 11 December, and which claimed the lives of 27 victims and injured scores others, Copts woke up to news that their widely-loved and revered Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth, had to leave to London for medical treatment. There was talk in Coptic circles that Anba Moussa’s health—Anba Moussa is over 70—had taken a nosedive in the wake of the Boutrossiya incident. Watani sought the first chance to talk to Anba Moussa once he was back in Cairo.
How did you receive the painful news of the Boutrossiya bombing?
The Boutrossiya church in Abbassiya, Cairo, is adjacent to St Mark’s Cathedral, and is close to the Youth Bishopric in Deir al-Malak. I heard of the bombing as I presided over Holy Mass. I completed Mass then rushed to Boutrossiya where I found that the dead bodies had been removed, but blood was spattered all over the place; its stench was crying out from the ground to Heaven” (Gen 4: 9). I saw “what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard” (1Cor 2: 9). [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/sectarian/at-boutrossiya-church-egypts-heart-bleeds/18249/] I was stepping over shattered glass; part of the wooden ceiling had fallen in; and there was extensive damage all around. I stood amazed: “Why all this terrorism? What wrong did these Copts do to deserve to be blown dead in this heart-wrenching way? They had just come to raise their hearts and minds in prayer to God.”
The scene was horrible and painful beyond words; the screams and wails of the martyrs’ family members will never leave my memory. Even the clock on the wall had stopped at 9:57am as though in testimony to the horrendous event that occurred at that moment.
But now I am sure God has heard the cries of those who were martyred, and lifted up not only their hearts but also their souls to join the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Heb 12: 1) in Heaven above, the apostles, angels, and the Holy Virgin.
Given that you were told Boutrossiya had been subjected to a suicide bombing, had you no fears of going there, especially that your health had not been too stable lately and you were already on treatment?
It was not about fear; I sensed a compulsion to go to the place that was so blessed as to become an arena of modern-day martyrdom. I found thousands of Copts gathered outside the church crying, “Kyrie Eleison, Lord, have Mercy,” and “We will go on praying no matter what.”
The situation and the congregation, and the many State figures that kept arriving to offer support and condolences, made me forget that I had unwittingly skipped my regular medication. I stayed on until Pope Tawadros arrived at Cairo Airport from Athens in the evening. He had cut short his visit to Greece and headed on the first plane back home once he heard of the bombing. Altogether, Sunday 11 December was a day of shock, pain and grief.
When did you feel your health deteriorating?
The pain, physical and psychological, set in on Monday 12 December, the day the funeral service was held for the martyrs. Pope Tawadros presided over the funeral. It was a poignant affair, brimming with heartache. The many coffins placed next to one another in rows, the grieving and wailing of the families of the dead, the icons of the martyrs of the early ages of Christianity on the walls, and visible sorrow of the Pope made the pain grow to an almost intolerable level. The following day I officiated at a funeral service for a victim who had been among the injured but died the previous night, as well as in services of al-Taalet (Third Day after Death) for three families who had lost loved ones. It left my heart aching and my spirit even more grieved. I returned to the bishopric to rest, but the pain grew more severe. My doctor Michel Hanna advised me to go directly to London where I had already had cardiac treatment before. I went on Wednesday and underwent several medical investigations. I was told I needed a cardiac catheterisation.
Even in the UK I could not stay away from anything that had to do with Boutrossiya. I took part in a commemoration ceremony held at the church of St Mary and St Abra’am in Brighton in honour of the martyrs; the church is a two-hour ride from the hospital. I was met with much love by the clergy and congregation who displayed exceptional sympathy with the people in Egypt. I realised in a very practical sense how much we all are one body in Christ.
Further medical examinations followed on 15 and 16 December. On Saturday, 17 December, the doctors successfully conducted the medical intervention needed after having found that my main artery was 95 per cent blocked.
I was extremely moved by the love with which the clergy in the UK surrounded me; Fr Antonius Thabet, the elder priest in London, welcomed me in his home, and Anba Antony drove six hours from Newcastle to see me. However, I had a strong urge to be back home in Egypt, the land of martyrs, and I left the following day.
I know that Boutrossiya church has a special place in your heart; will you tell us more about that?
The church—which was built in the early 1900s by the prominent Coptic Boutros-Ghali family, and the crypt of which acts as burial place for the family—is where I spent my youth and learned about ministry. After I moved from Assiut to Cairo to join the Faculty of Medicine at Ain Shams University, Boutrossiya was the church closest to where I lived; I used to pray there regularly and attend the youth meetings. Years later I took orders and would participate in the Holy Mass with the pastors of the church who often asked me to say sermons on Christmas or Easter eves.
Every corner in this church, every stone even, holds for me cherished memories of good old days. I thank God and thank President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi who assigned the construction department of the Armed Forces to repair and restore the church to be in good shape for worshippers to celebrate Coptic Christmas Midnight Mass on 6 January. http://en.wataninet.com/features/tourism/president-sisi-boutrossiya-restored-for-christmas/18279/
Although all construction work will be done by the army, a team of Italian experts in icon restoration is handling work on the icons, some of which date back 105 years ago. The entire church, from foundations to bell towers, is built in stone in the style of the early Coptic Basilicas. The walls are adorned with beautiful paintings and mosaics depicting the life of Jesus Christ and the apostles. http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/coptic-affairs/the-gates-of-hell-shall-not-prevail-against-it-matt-1618/18288/
How do you feel about the young suicide bomber who bombed himself to kill the Church’s sons and daughters?
The poor young fellow was brainwashed [into believing that blowing up Christians is an act of service to Allah]. I pray to the Lord to change the hearts of people, in order to come to know “the way, the right and the life,” (John 14: 6). Today, we need to understand how best to deal with extremist thought. We have been calling for the importance of interactive, modern education. Sadly, education in Egypt is still rather dogmatic; it’s a one-way street where teachers talk and pupils listen. This is a recipe for disaster since it nurtures entire generations who embrace mono-dimensional thought, the best way for the making of fundamentalists. Open-minded education creates a well-aware, well-educated generation.
28 December 2016