17 April 2011
Last Wednesday saw the first Mass held in the newly rebuilt Church of the Two Martyrs in the village of Sole in Etfeeh, Giza, under tight security and in the presence of a hand-picked handful of a congregation.
The church had been in the centre of events last month when it was torched and pulled down by the Muslim villagers in vengeance at the discovery of an illicit affair between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman who both belonged to the village. Even though the Copt and his family were banished from the village, a fight broke out among the Muslim woman’s extended family members in which two men lost their lives. Following their burial, the Muslim villagers went on a rampage against the village Copts, attacking their homes and shops, and torching their church. They pulled down the church, held Muslim prayers there, and vowed to build a mosque in its place.
The Copts of Sole fled their homes, and the matter escalated into an eight-day several-thousand-strong Coptic protest in front of the Radio and TV building in Maspero, Cairo. The demonstration was spurred by the attitude adopted by Helwan governor—Etfeeh belongs to Giza parish but, administratively, is part of Helwan governorate—who asked the Copts to give up their church for the projected mosque and build another church outside the village on land to be allocated for that purpose by the governorate. The Copts adamantly refused, since such an action would have made a very serious precedent: churches could be easily pulled down with promises to erect alternative ones outside residential areas.
Finally, the crisis was resolved when the Military Council pledged to rebuild the Sole church and hand it over to the congregation. Last week the military honoured its promise. The fact that the church was ready for holding prayers before the festive season of Palm Sunday, Passion Week and Easter was a source of particular comfort to the Copts.