Torched churches and cries of “Death to Christians” have become the norm in Egypt recently as the Muslim Brotherhood carries out attacks on the Christian minority. According to news reports, more than 80 Christian churches, schools and institutions, as well as Christian-owned homes and shops, have been set on fire, purportedly because Christians protested the regime of former President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted from power July 3.
Nuns were paraded through the streets like prisoners of war. In a kind of reverse Passover, Christian homes were marked for destruction. And it doesn’t look like peace will be coming soon for Egypt’s ancient Coptic Church, the primarily Orthodox community that makes up about 10 percent of the population. “The situation for Copts in Egypt is really tragic, and I fear it will only get worse,” reports Sophia Jones, a Cairo-based correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor. “Coptic homes have been marked with X’s before they are burned, dozens of churches have been destroyed, as well as businesses and Coptic orphanages.”
As the war continues to rage between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s military-led regime, Copts find themselves not only as collateral damage, but as targets of a powerful political group intent on pandemonium.
Bishop Youhannes Zakaria, Coptic Catholic bishop of Luxor, told Fides Agency that while it’s true that Christians did protest Morsi’s regime, there were “30 million Egyptians, most of whom were Muslims, who took to the streets against the deposed president.”
“By attacking Christians,” he said, “they want to throw Egypt into chaos.” The bishop, who has been holed up in his residence for 20 days, canceled Mass for the feast of the Assumption. Elsewhere, Sunday Mass was canceled Aug. 18 for the first time in 1,600 years because the monastery had been destroyed. On the same day, Pope Francis called for “peace, dialogue and reconciliation” in Egypt.
“I wish to ensure my prayers for all the victims and their families, the injured and all those who are suffering,” he said.
Besides prayer, Catholics also can help Egyptian Christians via the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Its website specifically accepts donations in support of Copts.
“CNEWA is a network linking Catholics directly to the people who need their help through the many priests, sisters, bishops, religious and lay people on the ground there,” said Michael La Civita, chief communications officer. “The Church in Egypt runs and administers schools, child care facilities for the orphaned and abandoned, job training centers, homes for the blind, clinics and dispensaries, but in times such as now, parishes and facilities provide emergency assistance to families affected by the violence and the economic paralysis.”
Of course, Egypt is just the latest example of a wave of Christian persecutions in the Middle East. In Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Christian minorities are dwindling amid sectarian hostility and growing extremism.
It’s a reminder for Catholics to look beyond the general news filter — where reporting on the Christian minority is scant — to Catholic and other Christian media that give a more accurate picture. Social media, too, gives an insight we didn’t have even five years ago. Photos of burned steeples and doorways are surfacing on Twitter — a reminder that, in this day and age, news is available even when the press is absent.