Forum to tackle anti-Christian violence in Egypt
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