IMBABA, Egypt, MAY 10, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Attacks on several Christian churches over the weekend in Imbaba left 12 dead and up to 200 injured.
Aid to the Church in Need reported that the violence erupted on Saturday after 500 Selafist Muslim extremists amassed outside the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mina claiming that Christian leaders were detaining a woman who wanted to convert to Islam.
Attackers used guns, grenades and stones against this church, the Coptic Orthodox church of the Virgin Mary, and a Catholic church in that locale.
Father Luciano Verdoscia, a Comboni missionary stationed in nearby Cairo, reported to Fides: “A group of Salafis came shooting in the church and killed the father of one of our postulants, who is in Uganda. The man was hit by several shots to the chest.”
The missionary explained: “The excuse used by the Salafis to commit these crimes is the story of Kamilia, the wife of an Orthodox priest who wanted to divorce her husband. Since the Orthodox Church is very strict in matters of divorce, the woman had converted to Islam to escape from her husband.
“The Salafis claim that the woman is held prisoner and was brought back to the Coptic faith against her will.”
However, Aid to the Church in Need reported that this woman appeared on television defending her Christian faith; at that, the mob responded that they were in search of another woman in a similar situation.
Poverty and ignorance
Father Luciano asserted, “Beyond the story of this woman, considerations must be taken to understand what is happening in Egypt.”
He reported that “the neighborhood of Imbaba is a poor area and fanaticism flourishes where poverty and ignorance reign.”
The missionary continued: “The Salafis are a group that is not the majority, but make themselves heard, even with violent actions.
“According to some commentators, these groups are controlled by the old regime, who want to make others believe: ‘Look what is happening without us. A strong government is needed to rule with an iron hand.'”
Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Guizeh said to Aid to the Church in Need: “The police need to say clearly to those who have done this: ‘You cannot do this. It is not allowed.’
“Without action from the police and the army, it will be chaos, complete anarchy.”
The Egyptian army is reporting that 200 people were arrested in connection with the violence, and security has been increased around Cairo churches.
However, Bishop Aziz stated that restoring law and order is insufficient.
“We cannot make peace and reconciliation without first bringing people to justice,” he stated. “Otherwise, the reconciliation is just theatre and the problems will remain.”
The bishop expressed the concern that “the army will not stand up against the people who do this sort of thing.”
He added: “The police appear but very slowly. They are frightened. They have not been strong enough.”
Yet, Bishop Aziz said, the violence is also “too much for Christians to bear.”
Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor told the aid agency that despite this, the faithful are continuing to persevere.
He said: “Last weekend I was celebrating Masses in our villages and I expected that they would be afraid and that it would be necessary to encourage the faithful.
“But it was they who encouraged me. It is not our character to give up. Next day, we pick up the pieces and start again.”
The prelate reported that “people are determined to bear witness to Christ in the lands where he lived.”
Father Luciano urged Muslims in that land to “reject violence based on religion.” Islam, he said, “must evolve.”
The missionary continued: “I hope that moderate Muslims can go beyond certain readings of Islam.
“These killings happen because in Islam when a group of people are expressed as ‘kuffar’ (infidels), they can be killed and deprived of all their property. Interpretations of this type should be reviewed by the same Islamists.”