«These attacks will not undermine the unity of the Egyptian community.» The words are those of Pope Tawadros II, Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking to a delegation from the Italian section of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Together with its director Alessandro Monteduro, it was received in audience at the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.
The Primate of the Coptic Orthodox Church – the largest Christian community in the Middle East, numbering around 15 million adherents (2 million of them in the diaspora) – believes that the ultimate aim of the many attacks that have bloodied Egyptian soil is an attempt to divide the Egyptian people. “But we are very careful to reaffirm our unity after every massacre”, he insists, explaining that the Coptic Orthodox Church is also taking care of the families of the victims and of those wounded in the attacks, a task that has prompted the establishment of an ad hoc office for the purpose within the patriarchate. ACN
“We assured Pope Tawadros of our deep sympathy and solidarity with this martyred Church”, said ACN Italy’s director Alessandro Monteduro, following the meeting, which symbolically took place on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul and at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It also happened to mark the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the pro-democracy protests on Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The ACN delegation, which spent a few days in Egypt and which also included Bishop Francesco Cavina of the Italian diocese of Carpi, was able to visit the places affected by the most recent attacks on the Christian community and meet with the families of the victims. Among them was Maryam, the wife of the watchman at the church of Saint Peter and Paul in Cairo, who was killed in the attack of December 2016. “She immediately told us that she had forgiven her husband’s murderers”, Monteduro explained. Then she added, “We Christians know that we are exposed, and we are ready to die for our faith.”
The delegation was able to witness the numerous security measures that had been taken to protect all the churches. “But what struck us most during this time”, the Italian director added, “was the vigour and beauty of the faith of the Coptic Christians of Egypt who, despite the attacks, despite the terror created by the action of the fundamentalist Islamist groups, do not cease to flock to their places of worship.”
The Coptic community is indeed a strong one, but nevertheless it needs our solidarity. “It is important for Italian Christians to ‘return to Egypt’, following the footsteps of the Holy Family”, Monteduro insists. “Our brothers and sisters there really have need of us, and it is the best way of demonstrating to them that we all of us together form one Christian community.” In Egypt there is also a Catholic Coptic Church numbering some 200.000 faithful.