NAG HAMMADI, Egypt, JAN. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Six Coptic Orthodox Christians and a Muslim security guard were killed while leaving Christmas Midnight Mass in a drive-by shooting Wednesday evening in Nag Hammadi.
This year’s Christmas, which was observed Thursday by many Orthodox Churches, was marked with tragedy as the community held a funeral procession for the victims.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, sent a letter today to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Shenouda III of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark, expressing solidarity with the community.
“All Christians must be united in face of oppression and, together, seek the peace that only Christ can give,” the cardinal wrote.
The letter, published by the Vatican press office, continued, “Every time our Christians suffer unjustly, it is a wound to the Body of Christ that all of us believers share.”
The victims included a 14-year-old adolescent, a couple, and young men in their 20s.
Nine other Christians leaving the Mary Gergis Church on Wednesday night were injured as three men with automatic weapons shot into the crowd from a car.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry has reported that the lead assailant was identified by witnesses as Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, a Muslim with a criminal record.
The ministry speculated that the attack was an act of vengeance after an alleged rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man last November. Several Christian properties were burned in the town after this incident.
Christian residents reported receiving several threats days before the shooting.
Bishop Anba Kirollos stated that he was also threatened with a message sent to his mobile phone that said, “Now it’s your turn.” He said that he had reason to believe the attack was aimed at his assassination, AsiaNews reported.
Cardinal Kasper wrote to the Coptic community, “Together, we share this sadness, and together we pray for healing, peace and justice.”
He assured the Coptic pope, “Please, know that I am united in prayer to Your Holiness and to the Coptic Christian community at this time.”
Pope Shenouda III is head of the Orthodox Coptic Church, which has been separated from Rome since the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Orthodox Copts make up a small minority of the country’s 74 million inhabitants, 94% of whom are Muslims. There are also some 250,000 Catholic Copts in the country. The Coptic Church was founded by the martyr Mark between A.D. 40 and 60 in Alexandria.
Aid to the Church in Need reported that the Christian minorities in Egypt are undergoing increased persecution as “extremism is worsening” and “gaining influence in society.”
Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of the Guizeh Eparchy told the aid agency today that the faithful are in “shock” after this week’s attack.
He stated: “We ask for more tolerance and more understanding of differences in society.
“We Christians are part of Egypt. We live in this country and we are as much Egyptians as anyone else. The fact that we are Christian makes no difference.”
The bishop stressed the need to improve education, and assist the people with resources to overcome ignorance, thereby combating extremist attitudes.
“Extremist action of this kind affects Muslims too,” he pointed out.
The prelate affirmed: “Of course, when incidents like this happen, we become worried.
“But we need to remember that we have lived together with Muslims for many centuries. Looking at our history gives us confidence in overcoming such problems.”