John Pontifex is the Head of Press and Information for Aid to the Church in Need UK. Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
* * *
The UK head of a charity that supports persecuted Christians is calling on people to pray for peace in Egypt after a sudden spike in attacks on Copts in the wake of President Morsi’s dramatic downfall.
Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need, whose fact-finding trip to Egypt coincided with the demonstrations that preceded Mohammed Morsi’s fall from power, spoke of his concern about a “specific and targeted assault” on Christians across the country since the change of regime.
Mr Kyrke-Smith, National Director of ACN UK, said: “At this critical time in Egypt – as reports come in of recent attacks on churches in the regions – it is very important to pray for peace in Egypt for Christians and all peoples.
“Sporadic acts of violence and intimidation have taken place in the past, but what we have seen in recent days is a specific and targeted assault on the Christian presence in the country.”
Mr Kyrke-Smith, who described being in Egypt as “protests and violence kicked off”, highlighted reports just in of nine Christians being killed nationwide.
Mr Kyrke-Smith described travelling in and around Luxor, close to the village of Dabaaya, where four Christian men were murdered and 23 houses were burnt down on 5th July.
Two other killings, both in the Sinai peninsula, include a priest – Abouna Aboud Sharween – killed on 6th July by unknown gunmen, and Magdy Lamei, a Christian salesman, whose body was found on Thursday (11th July), a few days after he was kidnapped and held for a ransom, reportedly equivalent to US$70,000.
More than a dozen churches have been attacked, according to other reports.
Coptic-owned businesses have been daubed with graffiti and anti-Christian fliers have been widely distributed.
Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “Aid to the Church in Need is committed to standing with our suffering brothers and sisters in prayer and with practical help.”
Stressing how many of the Christians he met were afraid of the future, he paid tribute to their faith and courage and that of the bishops he met there.
He said it would “take a long time” to build respect for Christians and other minorities, and went on to quote Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor who told him: “ ‘We are a missionary Church, laying down rocks for the future, for our people.’ ”
But, with immediate prospects for Christians looking bleak, Coptic leaders have said that 200,000 faithful had fled the country since President Hosni Mubarak left office in February 2011. The full figure could be much higher.
Referring to his Egypt trip, Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “In one Christian village outside of Luxor I witnessed the joy of the Christians but it was tempered by real concern about what may happen next.”
Reports from the region have indicated that the violence has been sparked by Islamists, angered by the toppling of their leader, picking on Christians as a vulnerable minority.
Some Egypt observers have stressed Muslim outrage at Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II appearing in a line-up of dignitaries on 3rd July when General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the overthrow of Mr Morsi.
Others, by contrast, have downplayed the significance of this, noting that in the offending image the Patriarch is shown surrounded by many other leaders, including hard-line Muslim conservatives and Ahmed el Tayeb, Grand Sheikh of Azhar.