Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christians Losing Hope in Egypt

My Egyptian brethren should remember the resurrection so they do not lose hope at all.

3/31/2013 Egypt (Global Post) - Down the narrow warrens of the gritty neighborhood of Shoubra, past the bakeries and butcher shops adorned with pictures of the new Coptic pope and ancient martyrs and saints, the Church of the Virgin Mary opened its doors for Mass. A congregation of mostly working class Cairenes filed into the pews at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning. The women with their cross necklaces and small linen veils took seats on the right. The men, with their small dark blue tattoos of the Coptic cross on their wrists just at the edge of their shirt cuff, slid into the left side.
A wan sun shone through stained glass and reflected on the iconography paintings that tell the 2,000-year history of the Coptic Church. One pictured the Holy Family traveling by donkey along the Nile.

A series of icons featured the evangelist St. Mark and the martyrs St. Mina and St. George slaying serpents, the biblical symbol of courage against evil. The priests, dressed in the traditional white Coptic robes, emerged from the sacristy amid a billowing gray cloud of incense. Prayers were chanted for the martyrs of a 4th century attack by Berbers from North Africa on the ancient monastery of Wadi Natrun. Forty-nine were killed then and their names were read.

The Coptic Church has always revered its martyrs. The history starts with the revered St. Mark the Evangelist who “received the crown of martyrdom” in Alexandria in 68 A.D. after being hunted down by a mob of Roman pagans on Easter. The Coptic calendar itself begins with the “year of martyrdom” in 303 A.D. when decades of Roman brutality to Copts reached a deadly crescendo. Whether it was North African brigands ransacking their monasteries in the 7th and 8th centuries or Islamic fundamentalists attacking churches in the 1990s and right up until 18 months ago when the Egyptian army killed 29 Copts who dared to protest over a church burning, fear is part of what it is to be an Egyptian Copt.

But many young Copts were proud to take part in the early stages of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and around Egypt that toppled the brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak.Then, within months of the popular uprising and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts realized that they were as vulnerable as ever in a predominantly Muslim country where Islamic fundamentalist movements were on the rise. The newly elected Coptic Pope Tawadros II has spoken out forcefully against the Islamists.

And since then there have been church burnings and a spate of murders. The number of attacks is not as high as it was in the mid-1990s when Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists targeted Christians, but Coptic leaders say a palpable wave of fear is now more intense than anyone can seem to remember.
And the Mass on this Sunday carried a passage in the gospel that has given Copts in particular solace and courage from one century to the next.

“Be not afraid. That was the message today,” said Mina Tamer, the Coptic priest who is referred to here in Arabic as “Abouna Mina,” of Father Mina. Abouna Mina added, “Thank God the Lord confided to us that we should not be afraid. Everyday people come to us with complaints. It is not easy. People want to leave to escape. They are fearful. But we tell them what the Lord has said, ‘Be not afraid.’”

“We understand that they want to emigrate, but we tell them our life is here. Our faith is here,” said Abouna Mina, who stroked a long gray beard as he talked and looked up over reading glasses in a small office just after the Sunday service where he was recording birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates.

“We have a lot more of these,” he said, pointing to the column recording deaths and then moving his finger to the ledger for births, adding, “and a lot less of these.”

]His office overlooked a small courtyard where young people gathered in loosely tied knots and families huddled together in circles. They were lingering, buying the sweet rolls for sale and reviewing religious books laid out at another table. The courtyard of the church is set back behind a wrought-iron gate, protected and separated form the bustling streets of this poor corner of Cairo where Muslims have often lived peacefully with Christians, but where religious tension have also periodically flared into violence(Read More).

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