According to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Boutrossiya church (church of St Peter and St Paul) will be in good shape for worshippers to celebrate Coptic Christmas Eve Midnight Mass on 6 January. The President issued his orders that the construction department of the Armed Forces should repair and restore the church in Abbassiya, Cairo, which was the target of a terrorist attack on Sunday 11 December when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the church. The blast, which took place at 10am as Holy Mass was being celebrated and the church was full of worshippers, left 26 dead and 49 injured. [http://en.wataninet.com/features/tourism/at-boutrossiya-church-egypts-heart-bleeds/18249/]
Rumours that had spread directly following the explosion claiming the blast was owing to a 10kg bomb left by an unknown woman in the church proved false; criminal laboratory examination of the church revealed the identity of the suicide bomber: 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafiq Muhammad Mustafa. Three accomplices, two men and a woman, were caught by the police and are undergoing investigation.
On the third day after the explosion, a statement by Daesh was posted on the group’s website claiming responsibility for the blast. Egyptians were sceptical not only because it had taken Daesh that long to claim responsibility, but also because it was widely regarded to have said nothing new. Islamist groups, as seen by Egyptians, are all one and the same and are all affiliated to one another no matter what name they carry. The terrorist attack bore the unmistakable fingerprint of Islamist terrorism regardless of which Islamist group carried it out.
The dead were seen as martyrs of faith. They were given a funeral service over which Pope Tawadros II presided. The Pope had been on a pastoral visit to Greece when the bombing occurred; he cut short his visit and returned home. He was visibly distressed. At the funeral service he stood with bowed face, leaning on his staff and facing the coffins; his voice broke several times during prayer.
“We term our Church ‘the Church of the Martyrs’,” Pope Tawadros said. “Since the first AD century, Copts have offered their lives as sacrifice for the love of Christ. Our martyrs, and the act of martyrdom in itself, bind us to Heaven and raise our hearts to those who are already there interceding on our behalf. Some day we will all meet in Heaven.”
After the service, the coffins of the martyrs were wrapped in Egyptian flags, carried on the shoulders of Egyptian soldiers and marched in a military funeral led by President Sisi who said the gruesome attack had pained all the nation as much as it did the Copts. The terrorist attack was in fact meant to target Egypt, he insisted. “They [the terrorists] are out to defeat us,” he said. “But no matter how hard they try, they will never break us.”
The pain of all Egyptians was tangible. On the official level, condolences poured in from State and non-governmental bodies, public figures, and the diplomatic corps; representatives called on St Mark’s in Cairo and on dioceses all over Egypt to offer condolences. Candlelight vigils were held in a number of public places in Cairo to pay respects to the martyrs.
On the individual level, Muslims called the Copts they knew and offered sincere condolences as in a personal tragedy. This had a substantial universal comforting effect.
The attention of Egypt now focused on the injured. Health Minister Ahmed Emad Eddin accompanied Pope Tawadros as he visited the injured at the hospitals of al-Demerdash, Dar al-Shifa, and al-Galaa’ Military Hospital. Defence Minister Sidqy Sobhy had ordered that the injured could be checked into military hospitals for treatment and surgery.
The victims lay under treatment at al-Demerdash, Dar al-Shifa and the military hospital of al-Galaa’; several of them were in intensive care. Pope Tawadros listened to the doctors who explained the health condition of each of the injured; he also listened to the testimonies of the injured of what they remembered of the bombing. He prayed for each, giving them support and spiritual encouragement. He appeared distressed at the condition of the patients in critical condition, and especially for the children. He thanked Dr Emad Eddin and the hospital officials for their meticulous care of the 23 patients, 17 among whom were in critical condition.
Two days after the Pope’s visit, a number of patients were moved: eight remained at Demerdash, three at Dar al-Shifa, eleven at Galaa’, and one was moved to the military hospital at Maadi. The Health Minister said that cases for whom no treatment could be offered in Egypt would be sent abroad for treatment, at the expense of the State.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail had also visited the injured in hospital and, together with Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, offered condolences to the Egyptian people and specifically to the Copts.
Repairs and restoration
Watani’s reporters on Boutrossiya church site had reported that the blood of the victims was spattered all over the place, and that the church reeked with the stench of blood. 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—incurred extensive damage. Part of the wooden ceiling fell in, the glass of the windows was shattered, a number of the iron-frame windows were wrenched out of their place and blown outside, the inlaid wood entrance to the baptistery and side altar were damaged, as were the wooden pews. The marble columns and the icons close to the explosion suffered pockmarks, as did the mosaics in the sanctuary and the baptistery, on account of the nails and metal pellets which had formed part of the bomb and were flung around by the explosion. A video of the damage in the church may be viewed on http://www.wataninet.com/متابعات-وتحقيقات/تحقيقات/بالفيديو-وطني-نت-في-البطرسية-بعد-الإن/638639/
The Armed Forces have already started work on repairing Boutrossiya church and have promised it will be ready for Christmas Midnight Mass. All construction work will be done by the army, but a team of Italian experts in icon restoration will be in Cairo soon to handle work on the icons.
According to General Kamel al-Wazeer who heads the construction department of the Egyptian Armed Forces, it is a blessing that the church roof was built of timbre covered with tiles. The wood, he said, worked to absorb the shock waves of the bombing; had the roof been concrete it would have reflected the shock wave downward, which would have caused far-reaching damage to the building and its elements, to say nothing of the extensive loss of lives and injuries.
The Catholic Churches, which mark Christmas on 25 December, took a decision to cancel all Christmas celebrations, in mourning for the Boutrossiya martyrs. Christmas would be observed only through Midnight Mass and Church services. The decision aroused debate on social media; bloggers were divided between support for the decision to mourn the martyrs, and criticism of the cancellation of celebrations which they said would be tantamount to giving in to the terrorists whose main goal was to stop Christian celebrations.
Spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, Father Boulos Halim, said that no decision had been taken to cancel Christmas celebrations in the Orthodox Church. The Coptic Orthodox celebrate Christmas on the 29th of the Coptic (Egyptian) month of Kiahk, 7 January on the Gregorian calendar.
19 December 2016