Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1234, (19 - 25 February 2015)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1234, (19 - 25 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Church in mourning

Grief struck the Coptic Orthodox Church over the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Copts, reports Michael Adel

Church in mourning
Church in mourning
Al-Ahram Weekly

During his visit to the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya Monday to convey his condolences to Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Holy See of St Mark, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said that Egypt has many enemies who want to decimate its unity. Al-Sisi said ordeals make us stronger and that Egypt would avenge the martyrs.

“The entire region is a target, but Egyptians are distinguished by 7,000 years of civilisation,” Al-Sisi said, underlining that through such events, “God increases our strength, cohesion and resolve.”

Pope Tawadros expressed deep gratitude to the president for his gesture and efforts on behalf of the martyrs, and said he would convey the president’s condolences to the families of the victims.

On Monday, Al-Sisi sent Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim to Al-Oor village in Minya governorate to convey condolences to the families and disburse compensation for the dead.

The visit was attended by Bishop Moussa for youth affairs, Bishop Daniel of Maadi, secretary of the Holy Synod and Central Cairo Bishop Rafael, and Bishop Maximus of Al-Salam and Herafiyeen.

During his visit to the cathedral, Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhi said no one could ever drive a wedge in Egypt’s united front, conveying his condolences in the name of the Egyptian army. Pope Tawadros said that throughout its history Egypt has been a distinguished state with a proud people. Sobhi said the army is very capable of defending its sons and taking revenge on its enemies.

The defence minister was accompanied by other top brass, including Chief of Staff General Mahmoud Hegazi, and army generals Abdel-Moneim Al-Trass, Osama Al-Guindi, Louis Al-Masri, Osama Askar, Mohamed Said Al-Assar, Tawheed Tawfik and Sayed Abul Fadl.

Pope Tawadros told Al-Ahram Weekly that the crime watched around the world — referring to the videoed beheadings in Libya of 21 Egyptian Copts by the so called Islamic State (IS) group — is the result of extremist and fanatic ideas that must be eradicated. We can confront terrorism through resolve and cohesion amongst the people, he said.

The pope added that the Egyptian people and the Coptic Church are confident in the state’s ability to confront terrorism, noting there exist plots against the country and all must understand that well. He added that there is sorrow and pain in the hearts of Egyptian families after this terrible crime, and that all must console and support them.

In a related development, the families of Copts slaughtered by IS called on the state to build a church carrying the names of the martyrs in Al-Oor village. Bishop Yoanas told worshippers at Minya Church: “Your blood is precious in the eyes of God, Egypt and the Church. Our sons did not deny their faith and pledged their faith to Christ.”

Yoanas praised the air strikes by the Egyptian armed forces that swiftly followed against IS targets in Libya.

Bishop Yoanas also thanked President Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Mehleb, “who is visiting the families of our martyrs one by one”, adding: “We are proud to be the sons of martyrs.”

Bishop Befnotios of Samalot said: “Our martyrs are martyrs of faith and the country, and I prayed that their faith remained steadfast and their heads remained high until the last breath.”

Since the slaughter of the 21 Egyptian Christians at the hands of the IS group in Libya, the Coptic Orthodox Church lived through very painful moments. Led by Tawadros II, the Church condemned the heinous crime saying their blood is calling onto God, and that Egypt will not rest until the culprits are punished.

The Weekly was able to obtain the names of the Egyptian martyrs, who were: Milad Makeen Zaki, Abanob Ayad Atiya, Maged Suleiman Shehata, Youssef Shukri Yunan, Kirolos Shukri Fawzi, Bishoy Estefanos Kamel, Somael Estefanos Kamel, Malak Ibrahim Sanyot, Tawadros Youssef Tawadros, Girgis Milad Sanyot, Mina Fayez Aziz, Hani Abdel-Messih Salib, Bishoy Adel Khalaf, Somael Alham Welsen, Ezzat Boshra Nasif, Luca Nagati, Essam Baddar Samir, Malak Farag Ibram, Sameh Salah Farouk and Gaber Mounir Adli.

The Church said: “At this difficult time, the Coptic Orthodox Church, bids farewell to its righteous martyrs, trusting that their great country will not rest until the wicked culprits are justly punished for their heinous crime. We are also confident in the state and all its institutions, and the attention of all officials since the beginning.”

The official statement continued: “We share the sorrow of the families of our beloved children and convey our condolences to the entire nation. Their blood is calling on the Just God who is vigilant and will punish everyone for their deeds. We pray to God to keep Egypt safe and united, and for peace to prevail in the country.”

Coptic Church Spokesman Father Boulos Halim said the men who appeared in a video on IS websites being beheaded are the 21 Egyptians who were kidnapped in Libya. “We pray for our slain sons, and send condolences to their families and pray for them,” Halim said.

However, Pastor Estefanios Shehata, undersecretary of Samalot Diocese, home of the slain men, criticised the state and Foreign Ministry for not publicly announcing the death of the captives, instead “procrastinating and pretending not to know”. He added: “The Church and families of victims want the corpses to be returned home for proper funerals and burial, since the state failed to bring them back alive. Most pastors are heading to the home village of the martyrs to console their families who are hysterical with grief.”

He added: “They are waiting for the state to respond about the possibility of bringing the bodies home. If they cannot come home, then we will hold mass in all the churches [of Egypt] for their souls.”

The Middle East Council of Churches stated some Christians in Libya and other countries are subject to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international charters. It warned of serious demographic shifts in the region that is the cradle of the faiths from heaven, especially after growing concern that measures to protect innocent citizens are insufficient to stop treacherous terrorist attacks. “We believe in the right of all humans to live freely and with dignity anywhere they choose in God’s expansive kingdom, preserve their religious identity, and their legitimate rights protected in their homelands. Thus, we demand that all regional governments and those who are enlightened and have influence in their communities shoulder their national and religious responsibility to protect their Christian citizens and step up efforts and coordination to rein in and conquer monstrous terrorism.”

Bishop Mounir Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Egypt, North Africa and Horn of Africa, sent his condolences for the death of the martyrs and said the Church is praying for their families so God may console them. He added that he calls for peace and love in his prayers to prevail in the world, which is suffering the brunt of terrorism. He also called on the world community and Egyptian government to confront more aggressively terrorist groups that have spread in the region, adding that all Egyptians in Libya must be assisted in returning home as soon as possible.

Anglican leader Safwat Al-Bayadi said the victims were guilty of nothing other than being Egyptian Christians. “We call on our people and churches to fast and pray for God to decree peace instead of war and that the sea of blood dries up. God the Judge is able to condemn the wicked, their ideas and destructive plots.”

The Catholic Church expressed regret over the death of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya at the hands of IS, and condemned the video that was posted online. In a statement, the Church said: “Egypt’s brave martyrs were slain in cold blood while they were seeking to make a living in Libya to feed their families. The church prays for their souls to be restful and for peace in Egypt.”

Father Andre Zaki, the top candidate to lead the Anglican Church in Egypt, called on President Al-Sisi to respond to the IS killings. “We believe they are martyrs for the country,” he said. He described the crime as heinous and one that demonstrates the evil of IS, saying that the only option is for an immediate response by Egypt. He added that those killed are martyrs for the country before being martyrs of the church.

The families of the victims sent a clear message to President Al-Sisi that they want the bodies of their loved ones to come home. The families conveyed their message to the prime minister during a meeting attended by Bishop Boulos of Old Cairo who was delegated by Pope Tawadros to communicate with the families of the victims.

In a surprise move, a grassroots group in Minya demanded air strikes by the Egyptian army against IS strongholds in Libya. Mena Thabet, the founder of the Popular Initiative Party, called on President Al-Sisi to coordinate air strikes with Libyan authorities as a preliminary response to the slaughter of 21 Egyptians. Former MP Hilaslasi Mikhail stressed the importance of a strong response by Egypt against anyone who threatens Egypt’s national security by bombing terrorist camps in Libya.

The number of Egyptians in Libya is unknown, but sources at the Foreign Ministry estimate around 800,000 Egyptians are in Libya, of which 100,000 are Christian. Many of them live in areas that are battlegrounds between IS and other militias.

Minister of Labour and Migration Nahed Al-Ashri admitted there is no official figure on Egyptian labour in Libya, because a large number travel through illegal channels. A source at the ministry said the lack of exact numbers was due to many reasons, including the fact that there are several agencies responsible for Egyptians abroad that sometimes work against each other, while accurate figures are lost between the emigration department in the Labour Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

The majority of world media covered the slaying of the Copts and contacted leaders of the Coptic Church in Egypt. Bishop Angelos, archbishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, told IS: “These young men are not invading Crusaders or non-believers, but people of flesh and blood who all have very human stories.”

Angelos told the BBC: “The majority of Muslims in the Muslim world believe this is not Islam, and I believe this is the best message we can send to extremist groups.” Responding to why Egyptians go to Libya, Angelos said: “They come from modest backgrounds. Economic pressure forces them to go to Libya to work in construction to help their families.”

Speaking to the families of the victims, one finds them poor, simple and kind. They are not interested in political battles, but focus on providing for their families. Youssef Tawadros, the father of one of the martyrs, said: “Since my son was kidnapped I knew the criminals would kill him. I did not hold out much hope that he will be freed.” He said his wife became paralysed the moment she found out he was kidnapped, and his four children have not stopped crying. The martyr’s father asked: “What should I tell the children asking about their father? How can they comprehend that their father was slain in this barbaric manner?” He added that he last spoke with his son on New Year’s Eve when his son called him to ask him to pray for him for success and blessings.

The tears of the father rolled down his cheeks. “There is a fire in my heart. I feel I’m in a nightmare I will eventually wake up from to find out none of this is true. These criminals slaughtered our hearts without us harming them in any way. They slaughtered my son because he is Coptic.”

Magda Abdu, wife of martyr Hani Abdel-Messih Salib, refused to comment because words are worthless. She only cried: “He went to make money for his children’s education; he did not make any money or return to his children.”

The brother of Youssef Shukri also refused to speak to the press, and only said: “The blood of Copts is worthless and no one cares about them. That’s it; I won’t say anything else.”
Fayez Al-Messih, cousin of Kirolos Shukri, said: “We consider our sons are martyrs for the sake of the country and they are now in the highest heavens.” He urged the Egyptian people to pray for the victims and themselves after watching the video of the slaughters, stating they are not to blame for what happened.

“We are not mourning because we know our army will respond to this wanton terrorism and will not let us down in avenging all Egyptians,” he added. He asserted the governorate of Minya “wants us all to be united and for Muslims and Christians to remain brothers, because these traitors do not belong to the Islam of our Muslim brothers whom we live with.”

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