Archive for August 2013
Christians are the main targets of the current wave of violence in Egypt — including killings, church burnings and the vandalism of Christian businesses — according to an Egyptian bishop who spoke in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday (Aug. 25).
“What is happening in Egypt could spread,” Youssef, whose diocese takes in 11 states, told an interfaith crowd of 220 at Christ Lutheran Church. “Political leaders fight terrorism around the world; they must support freedom in Egypt.
“Hate crimes are not acceptable anywhere, anytime.”
Copts, the ancient indigenous Christian church in Egypt, make up 10 percent of the population there. Since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July, demonstrations and violence have spilled over onto Christian targets.
Nearly 100 churches have been attacked, at least 84 just on the week of Aug. 14, Youssef said. Other targets have been schools, orphanages, businesses and individual Copts.
Most news reports have focused on street demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood, which fielded Morsi as its presidential candidate. But Youssef named the Brotherhood as the root of terrorism in Egypt, even accusing the group of cooperating with the Gaza-based Hamas.
The bishop declined to blame Islam in general, saying that most Egyptian Muslims stand with the Copts against violence. “Islam does not teach that. Only fanatics and terrorists.”
He urged his listeners to write government officials on behalf of Copts. He also said that churches and Christian businesses need aid to rebuild. People could donate to the diocesan website, suscopts.org, he said.
“What are we asking for?” Youssef asked, then answered his own question: “Peace, justice, equality, human rights, economic progress. And a future without fear.”
Despite his appeal for political and monetary aid, the bishop maintained that his church relies first on divine help.
“Our hope is in God Almighty,” Youssef said. “We will never deny our Christianity. Even if they kill us every day.”
Although most of his listeners appeared to be from South Florida’s three Coptic churches, they included Lutherans in the host church, where Pastor Paul Schweinler said his congregation has already been praying for the Copts for two years.
Also at the meeting were Catholic leaders. They included the Rev. Bob Tywoniak from neighboring Blessed Sacrament and the Rev. Pat O’Neill, representing Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.
But it was Kamruz Hossein, representing the interfaith organization JAM & All, who drew applause second only to Youssef himself.
“I am a Muslim and I stand beside you,” Hossein told the bishop. He also read a decree from the prophet Muhammad in 628 A.D., ordering Muslims to respect and protect Christians under their rule.
“No one is to destroy a house of their religion [or] to damage it,” Hossein read from Muhammad’s statement. “They are my allies and have my secure charter.”
Fort Lauderdale was the second stop in Youssef’s speaking tour on the Egyptian situation, after New York. He is due in Gainesville on Sept. 14, then New Port Richey the next day, both in Florida. Some of his priests in other cities have also held public forums, he said.
He drew hope from the inclusiveness of the Fort Lauderdale meeting, he said in an interview afterward. “When I see people come together like this, it gives me confidence and love. There are still a lot of good people.”
James D. Davis
After my initial post about the plight of Copts in Egypt, an woman there who identified herself as “Dr. Jill” contacted me about 16 boys in a Christian orphanage who have been burned out of their homes. The plight of the orphans drew the attention of a secular news site in Cairo. Here is the link to their story.
The writer makes a powerful point: “No matter what side of the crisis you are on, you should be able to understand that these children are completely innocent and need your help . . . They didn’t deserve to witness these terrors, let alone lose all their belongings.”
For South Floridians, a reminder: Bishop Youssef, chief shepherd of Copts in 12 states, will address the dire situation in Egypt at a forum today (Sunday). It will start at 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 1955 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
James D. Davis
The recent violence against Christians in Egypt — including an estimated 60-plus churches burned — will be the topic of a public interreligious forum at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25.
Leaders of several denominations, including Coptic (Egyptian) Christians, will gather at Christ Lutheran Church, 1955 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Main speaker will be Bishop Youssef, chief shepherd of Copts in 12 states, including the three Coptic churches in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Other leaders present will include Father Ron Perkins of Seafarers’ House, Father Bob Tywoniak of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, and Lutheran Pastor Paul Schweinler of the host church.
Based on initial response, anywhere from 400 to 700 people could show up on Sunday, according to Father Timotheus Soliman of St. John the Baptist Coptic Church in Miramar, Fla.
Planners state several aims of the forum:
- To demonstrate solidarity with the Coptic Church in Egypt.
- To give “expert and verifiable information” about the crisis.
- To call the US Government to advocate on behalf of Egyptian Christendom.
Their focus will be the churches burned, houses trashed, businesses vandalized and Christians who have been beaten or killed in recent months. Although anti-Copt discrimination and occasional outbreaks of violence have been the norm for decades, the violence has ramped up sharply in the last two years.
The most recent trigger came June 30 this year, when Copts joined in calling for Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi resign. Although the outcry came from many Muslims as well, militants found Christians easy, highly visible targets.
This despite the fact that Christians lived in Egypt long before Muslims arrived. The Copts say their church was founded by the first century St. Mark, the writer of one of the four Gospels. They also claim to be the indigenous ethnic group that founded kingdoms and built the pyramids in Egypt.
The religious toll has been almost as bad. Besides the burned churches, Timotheus says, some ancient Coptic manuscripts have been lost. And at least one icon, believed to have been created by St. Luke, was destroyed because it had an image of Jesus and Mary.
The wave of violence against them is therefore not only religious persecution, but a form of ethnic cleansing.
The organization Coptic Solidarity accuses two militant organizations — the Muslim Brotherhood and Gamaa Islamya — of the violence, saying it amounts to “scorched-earth tactics.” If so, it’s working: More than 100,000 Christians have fled the country already.
“While the U.S. government debates economic and military aid, there is no public policy to address the systematic persecution of the Christian community, or the destruction of sacred religious buildings and sacred writings,” says Schweinler in a statement.
American Catholics are siding with the Copts on a national level as well. Today (Aug. 23), the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called on Secretary of State John Kerry to press for an end to the violence.
“The destruction of Christian churches and the targeting of Christians are unacceptable,” says the letter, signed by Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the committee. “Our nation should find ways to support and encourage respect for human rights, religious freedom, and the building of an inclusive democracy.”
Besides Lutherans and Catholics, the planned forum in Fort Lauderdale has the support of Bishop Leopold Frade, spiritual leader of more than 30,000 Episcopalians in Southeast Florida.
Frade was in Honduras this week, but he wrote an open letter asking for prayer for the Copts. He said he visited Cairo on Jan. 7, the Coptic observance of Christmas, on invitation of the late Coptic Pope Shenouda III.
“Unfortunately, our government and press seem uninterested in the plea of 12 million Christians in Egypt,” Frade wrote. “Our press has also been ignoring the horror that Christians are going through having their person, homes and business attacked.”
FYI, here is the website for the Coptic diocese: http://www.suscopts.org/
James D. Davis