Problems on hold
The gruesome terrorist blast at Boutrossiya church in Cairo on Sunday 11 December left Egypt shaken and grieved. The blast took place during Holy Mass, and claimed the lives of 26 worshippers and injured 49. Most of the victims were women and youngsters. The heartrending scene brought to mind the tragedy at the church of the Saints in Alexandria on New Year Eve 2011 when, with the first hour of the year, a bomb exploded into the worshippers who were leaving church after Midnight Service. More than 20 persons died and some 80 were injured. [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/sectarian/new-year-2011-in-alexandria/7405/] Between the two calamities came a long series of terrorist attacks that targeted Egypt, her Muslims and Christians. In fact, the Boutrossiya bombing came only two days after two roadside bombs against security patrols in Kafr al-Sheikh and Giza.
The conscience of Egypt shook, but the faith of Egyptians in their God, nation, and leadership did not waver. The wrath of Copts exploded, yet they never disengaged from their fellow Muslims. A small minority strayed and, in bitter anger, attacked Muslims, even those who had come to share their sorrow. To those Muslims I extend my sincere apologies. Egypt declared a state of national mourning. The coffins carrying the martyrs were draped in the Egyptian flag and marched in a military funeral led by President Sisi and Pope Tawadros.
Amid the feverish efforts by the security authorities to catch the terrorists who committed the crime, we must not forget that terrorists are no fools. Terrorism monitors and spots all weak points and exploits them to strike. It is no secret that security measures in Egypt are, in times of peace, weak and lax; the exception being in airports, embassies, and headquarters of sovereign authorities. But churches are no exception to the lax security. Although security measures are tight at the St Mark’s Cathedral complex in Abbassiya, which also houses the papal headquarters, terrorism was able to target the Boutrossiya church adjacent to St Mark’s. This only sends the gloomy message that, thanks to our negligence, terrorism can come very close and hit where we believe is safe.
Now all churches will witness unprecedented security measures. Now electronic gates will be used to secure churches; they will be installed in churches that do not already have them, and put into operation in churches that had them but, for some inexplicable reason, did not operate them. Security will be tightened around and inside churches; I hope that Copts cooperate with the security efforts and not complain of the inconvenience this might entail. I also hope that the security awakening will last and not go back to laxity once matters settle down; this would be tantamount to offering another golden opportunity for evil terrorists to strike.
Egypt and her Church and Copts will remain forever armed with deep, time-honoured faith. Let me present a few moving lines that were posted on social media by Copts and Muslims in the wake of the terrorist calamity:
- “There are still niches on the Coptic iconastasis [which carries the icons of saints and martyrs] that remain vacant, waiting to be filled. Sainthood is not a thing of the past. And martyrdom through blood did not cease. The Divine altar still receives the luminary remnants of those who are martyred, to gather and elevate them on thrones of light. The conflict between love and hatred persists. The eternal doors of the Kingdom of God are still being prised open by those who offer their lives to enter through them,” Friar Seraphim al-Baramoussi said.
- “Boutrossiya martyrs, how lucky are you! You passed from the church’s gate to Heaven’s door. The Holy Virgin received you, and you will sing the Kiahk praises with the angels. [Kiahk praises are hymns sung to joyful melodies in honour of the Holy Virgin throughout the month of Kiahk that precedes Coptic Christmas. The date the bombing took place was 11 December, 2 Kiahk].”
- “It is now time to gather around the nation. Take care Egyptians, if [sectarian] strife strikes, neither Christian nor Muslim will survive.”
- “A gentle request to terrorists: Please notify us with the time and place of the next church bombing so we could rush to pray there.”
- “I will pray, no matter what.” [This has become a strong motto which Copts persist in using in the face of the all-too-many attacks against their churches]
14 December 2016