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Coptic bishop: World leaders must oppose violence against Christians in Egypt

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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.”

Bishop Youssef, shown 08-25-2013 outside Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Bishop Youssef, shown 08-25-2013 outside Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: James D. Davis)

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

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Written by Jim Davis

August 26, 2013 at 5:37 am

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