Sunday morning, as Mass at the Cairo Chapel next to St. Mark’s Cathedral was coming to a close, a bomb exploded killing 25 people and wounding 49 others, many of them women and children.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said that a suicide bomber caused the deadly attack, one of the worst ever, targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority which makes up 10 percent of the population. The explosion took place in a chapel, which adjoins St Mark's, Cairo's main cathedral and the seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II, where security is normally tight.
The United States said it "will continue to work with its partners to defeat such terrorist acts" and that it was committed to Egypt's security, according to a White House statement on Sunday.
Pope Francis condemned what he called the latest in a series of "brutal terrorist attacks" and said he was praying for those who are grieving and wounded.
The Egyptian government has determined to fight against Islamist groups. Protecting the minority Christian population is said to be “the cornerstone of the Egyptian government’s pledge,” but Sunday’s attack caused some to question whether the government is living up to its promise to provide security to all Egyptians.
“You ask for our emotions? Look in there,” said one man, pointing at the angry crowd. “What do you expect us to feel? People were killed while they were praying.”
“The government doesn’t protect us. They can’t protect us against terrorism in general,” said another man, who wished to remain anonymous.
Christians have complained of discrimination for many years in Egypt, saying that they are denied top jobs in fields of academia and security forces. They are also accusing the government of not doing enough to protect them from Muslim extremists, a complaint that has continued under el-Sissi’s rule.
“Lots of Christians supported the current regime out of fear of being targeted by Islamist extremists,” said Mina Thabet, an expert on religious minorities at the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “Many Christians supported Sisi as he represented himself as a protector of Christians.”
Speaking after a state funeral for the victims, President el-Sissi said, "This strike really hurt us and caused us much pain, but it will not break us, God willing, we will win this war. As long as we are together as one, we will definitely win, because we are people of goodness, not evil, and people of building, not destruction.”
The coffins were wrapped in Egyptian flags. Pope Tawadros II, spiritual leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, and top government and military officials attended the funeral. Security, provided by hundreds of army soldiers, was tight. Earlier on Monday, the Coptic community held its own funeral service.
"God, protect us and your people from the conspiracies of the evil ones," Tawadros prayed after waving incense over coffins lined up in front of the altar along with crosses made of white roses. "It is the destiny of our church to offer martyrs."
Only victims' relatives were allowed to attend the service at the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius church in the eastern Cairo suburb. Some yelled out in grief, shouting victims' names, while others sat in silence or quietly wept.
"We sacrifice our soul and blood for the cross," some chanted. Others sang hymns and, raising their hands, shouted, "Lord, have mercy."
Please join us in praying for the body of Christ in Egypt, for God’s healing and strength on those who are mourning, and for His protection to surround the many Christians who are suffering and being targeted around the world.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: December 12, 2016