A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Dec. 11 after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. A bomb ripped through the complex, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens, mostly women and children. CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters

Egypt's Christians praying for peace after deadly attack in Cairo

  • December 12, 2016

With 24 dead and as many as 21 of the 45 injured in hospital, victims of a suicide bomber at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt’s Christians are praying for the unity and peace of their nation, a Catholic pastor in Egypt’s Christian heartland told The Catholic Register.

Abouna Beshoi Yasa Anis, former pastor of Holy Family Catholic Coptic Church in Toronto, spoke to The Catholic Register 36 hours after 22-year-old Shafiq Mahmoud Mohamed Mostafa exploded a suicide vest inside the women’s section of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

Egyptian authorities had already arrested three men and one woman in connection with the bombing, and were searching for two more suspects. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“We are in pain,” Beshoi said. “We are very sad.”

Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Copts, called the bombing an attack “against the nation.”

“We know that whoever has done this does not belong to Egypt, its history or its civilization,” Tawadros said.

Pope Francis used his Sunday Angelus to extend an ecumenical message of sympathy to Egyptian Christians.

“I want to express my special closeness to my dear brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and to his community, praying for the dead and injured,” the pope said.

Egypt’s 10 million Christians constitute approximately 10 per cent of the population. The majority of Egyptian Christians, about 90 per cent, are Orthodox Copts. The next largest Church is the Coptic Catholic Church.

Rising fundamentalism among Egypt’s vast, poor Muslim majority has been fuelled by Salafist preachers, often with financial backing from Saudi Arabia, Beshoi said. Political anger over high inflation, poor education and poor housing finds its expression in Muslim religious rhetoric that increasingly identifies with the Daesh or Islamic State movement facing off against Western armed and financed armies in Mosul and northern Syria.

“ISIS is coming. ISIS is everywhere now,” said Beshoi, who is based in Asyut, about 400 km south of Cairo.

Beshoi particularly regrets the absence of any moderating influence from Egypt’s leading Islamic institution, Al Azhar University.

“They actually teach students who are the imams and leaders of the future – they teach them to hate Jews, to hate Christians,” he said. “Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, they rely on this.”

In the majority Christian city of Asyut, the 50,000-strong Christian community feels secure. In Cairo – a vast metropolitan area of over 20 million, where the poor are corralled into dense, desperate slums – it’s a different story. In the capital the poor get poorer and the rich richer, said Beshoi.

“The problem is to be able to change the understanding and thinking of people,” he said. “It’s a big job and a big war – to change minds, to change habits and culture.”

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