5 June 2011
Today, Sunday 5 June, saw the first Holy Mass held at the newly-restored church of the Holy Virgin in Imbaba. The church, which was burnt down during the sectarian attack against the Copts in the Giza district of Imbaba on 8 May, was restored by order and at the expense of the ruling Military Council.
Father Matthias Illiya of the Holy Virgin’s was joined by a number of Imbaba clergy in singing Mass. The event was widely covered by the Cairo media, and was attended by a host of officials and public figures. The official opening, however, will have to wait till Tuesday for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to be there.
“The church was restored in a record 25 days,” said Fr Matthias as he thanked the Armed Forces, Giza governorate, and the Arab Contractors Co for executing the renovation. “They have handed us the building even better than it originally was,” he said.
“We celebrate today a miraculous feat of God’s, and a wonderful human achievement. Egypt has been through a lot in the last few months; we have lived through bitter chaos and fanaticism, and now we ought to walk the path of peace, love, and unity.”
Fr Matthias said he was delighted not only at the resumption of worship in the newly restored church, but more so at the love and solidarity offered by the neighbourhood Muslims who insisted on being there to share in the Copts’ happiness. The local mosque imams, he said, offered their congratulations for the church reopening, and expressed their deep regret at the violent attack against the Copts by hardline Islamists on those fateful days of 7 and 8 May. “It goes against all principles of tolerant Islam,” they said.
The Copts greeted the reopening of the Holy Virgin’s with ululations and tears of joy. Scores of their Muslim neighbours joined in the general rejoicing.
The church of the Holy Virgin had been partially closed during the restoration work; Mass was held only on certain days of the week in a small chamber on the ground floor. Today, amid a general air of festivity, the main church was opened, beautifully restored and with air conditioning units installed.
The picture shows Fr Matthias with our reporter Nader Shukry in front of the newly-restored church.