Thursday,18 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Thursday,18 April, 2019
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Church solidarity with the Holy City

Heads of Egyptian churches warn Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will rub salt into the wound of Arab-US relations, writes Michael Adel


Christian churches from across the world have been angered by US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Egypt’s churches say the US decision will lead to instability and the souring of US-Arab relations.

Church heads in Jerusalem requested Trump retract his decision before it causes “irreversible damage”. The heads of the Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox patriarchies, the Latin Church, the Franciscan Order, the Patriarchal of Melkite Greek Catholics, the Maronites and the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Armenian and Syriac churches and the Evangelical Lutheran Church issued a joint statement advising the US “to maintain the status quo in Jerusalem”.

The Union of Copts for the Homeland denounced the US decision. “Trump’s announcement sounds the death knell to the peace process in the Middle East and gives a boost to the extremist voices in the region,” said the union’s head Karim Kamal. He also called on the Coptic Orthodox Church to take serious measures against Copts visiting Jerusalem.

Trump’s announcement “is a racist, Zionist decision made in the interests of Jewish organisations,” said Nader Sobhi, founder of the Coptic Christian Youth Movement.

“The decision made by Trump defies the entire world. It is a violation of international and UN conventions and could trigger a third world war. This is why we are asking the UN and its Security Council to convene immediately and we are calling on all Arab states to work towards righting these wrongs for the sake of world peace.”

Sobhi said there was an urgent need to implement late Pope Shenouda’s decision to ban Copts from travelling to Jerusalem.

Others argue the best way to protest Trump’s decision is to continue with visits.

“We must cling to our right to visit Jerusalem and assert the Church’s ownership of holy sites there,” said Medhat Qelada, head of the Union of Coptic Organisations in Europe.

The American Coptic Commission arranged a protest to denounce Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Pope Tawadros, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence. Church sources said that while the date of the meeting had not been finalised the audience was part of the protocol of US and EU official visits.

Church sources stressed that Pope Tawadros had communicated with other institutions, including Al-Azhar, whose Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb also cancelled a meeting with Pence.

Many Copts had booked Christmas trips to Jerusalem before Trump’s announcement, says

Albeir Victor, director of a travel agency. Victor echoed Qelada’sargument that it was important to continue to visit “our holy sites in Jerusalem”.

Victor said the vast majority ofvisasrequire to visit Jerusalem were issued by Israel and Trump’s decision would not change existing travel procedures.

Some travel agencies are offering discounts on visits to Jerusalem to encourage pilgrims. Packages that normally sell for $800 had been reduced to $650 in time for Christmas.

“No political or papal decision banning trips to Jerusalem has been taken,” points out tour agent Milad Rizkallah. “Trips now depend on the security situation in Jerusalem. If conditions are not stable there we will cancel next year’s itineraries.”

 “Visiting Jerusalem is a way to show the city belongs to all Arabs. Trump’s decision will not affect pilgrimages to our holy sites there.”

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