12 June 2011
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, had to wait till Tuesday for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to be there.
Muslim Christian jubilation
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 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. When on Sunday the main church opened, it was amid a general air of festivity, beautifully restored and with air conditioning units installed.
“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 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.
Love conquers hate
Tuesday evening saw Dr Sharaf head to the Holy Virgin’s in Imbaba, accompanied by Giza Governor Ali Abdel-Rahman, Interior Minister, Mansour al-Essawi, Minister of Local Development Mohsen al-Nomani and Minister of Work Force Ahmed Hassan al-Borai. Giza Bishop Anba Theodosius was on hand to welcome them, flanked by a number Imbaba clergy.
In the street, Muslim and Coptic crowds kept on chanting: “Muslim and Christian in Egypt are one hand”
In his speech, Sharaf warned of attempts of some to tamper with national unity, confirming that the State will fiercely confront any such attempt.
Grateful for the reconstruction and inauguration of the Holy Virgin’s church, Anba Theodosius longed for more security and safety measures to be provided to Imbaba as well as to all Egypt. He described the event as a victory for good over the evil, citizenship rights over non-Egyptian loyalties, and love over hate.
Father Daoud Ibrahim of the Holy Virgin’s said that the solidarity and love manifested in Imbaba between Muslims and Christians reflect a beautiful image of Egypt. This gives us hope to safely traverse the coming period towards a better future, especially if all Egyptians collaborate to wipe out sectarian causes, he said.
For his part, the deputy to the Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Abdel Razeq said: “Through the Ministry of Endowments, we try to ameliorate the prevalent religious address in order to broaden minds and assert principles of forgiveness and love among humanity.”
Given that many analysts see the Imbaba riots as the outcome of squalor and under-development, Giza governor said the governorate was joining NGOs from all over the political and social spectrum in Egypt to undertake projects to provide job opportunities in the district, and to offer literacy programmes. A new school will be opened shortly, as well as a police station and a hospital, he said.