As the police broke up the sit-ins of the Islamist supporters of the ousted president Muhammad Mursi in Cairo, Islamists across all Egypt waged ferocious attacks against Copts and churches.
While some 40 churches were plundered and burned, the churches of the south Cairo district of Helwan escaped unscathed. This was because Helwan’s young men decided to form a human chain around the churches to defend them against the Islamists.
The story began when the Islamists closed up on the church of Mar-Girgis, began throwing stones at it, and trying to break into the church. Directly, the young men in the neighbourhood confronted them. The attempt to set fire to the church was aborted; the mob fled; and only a few windows were broken.
There was another Islamist attempt to break into church of the Holy Virgin in Wadi Hoaf in Helwan, but again the young Muslims surrounded the church and protected it.
In front of St Dimiana Church in Maassara, Helwan, the young people divided themselves into two groups: the first stationed themselves in front of the church armed with sticks, while the second group climbed to the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, armed with stones.
The neighbourhood Muslims were just as worried about the churches as the Christians were; so they collaborated together to guard them. In front of Anba Barsoum al-Erian monastery in Maassara, Helwan, dozens of Muslims formed neighbourhood squads to protect the monastery. Anba Psanti, Bishop of Helwan, met the young Muslims and thanked them for taking upon themselves such a hazardous task. “But this is Egypt,” he said. “This is Egypt where some people are attempting to stir sedition. Thank you for your efforts and your warm-hearted sentiments” Anba Psanti said.
“We pray to God to help Egypt overcome the agony. He is able to turn the evil into good.
“Egypt will see prosperity and get over the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) nightmare, through the prayers of Pope Tawadros II, and those of Egypt’s sheikhs.”
Mahmoud Ahmed, one of the Muslims who defended the Anba Barsoum monastery in Maasara, Helwan, said that he and others came to guard the church because they were dismayed at the attacks against the Copts. “We realised that Copts were being used as a scapegoat, to get back at Egyptians for ousting Mursi and political Islam. We decided we’d do all we could to foil such a vicious plan against the Copts who have always lived peacefully among us as neighbours, colleagues and friends.”
Testimony of love
A similar event took place in the south of Egypt, in the village of Nuseirat in Sohag some 450km south of Cairo. The village church of the Holy Virgin in Nuseirat is an old church that goes back centuries in time, and was the target of an attack by Islamists from neighbouring villages. Eyewitnesses told Watani’s Robeir al-Faris that the village Muslims rushed to surround the church, which drove the outsiders to flee. “So our church today stands a witness to the triumph of love over hate,” a Nuseirat Copt says.
21 August 2013