Faith-filled resilience of Coptic Christians
Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, parish priest of Farm St Church, joined an ecumenical group led by His Eminence Coptic Archbishop Angaelos on pilgrimage to Egypt earlier this month. The Archbishop noted that the Coptic church is an important and integral part of “the cumulative history of Egypt”.
The purpose of the visit was to show solidarity with the Coptic Christian communities of Egypt, who make up 15% of the population, and to understand how they are coping with increased levels of religious violence and persecution. The group also used the trip to debate the seeming willingness of many governments to tolerate anti-Christian prejudice, which would not be tolerated were it directed towards other religions.
The delegation of seventeen travelled around Egypt visiting ancient Christian monasteries and churches, some of which date back to the fourth century desert fathers. They met senior clerics, members of the Egyptian government and the British Ambassador.
At St Mary’s Church at Maadi, not far from where millions of tourists flock each year to the pyramids and the Sphinx, the group visited the place where the Holy Family is believed to stayed before embarking by papyrus boat to upper Egypt.
Fr Dominic, who joined the delegation in his role as chaplain to Aid to the Church In Need, commented, “the visit really brought home to us how Egypt is the cradle of Christian and Islamic history, land of the Holy Family’s flight from terror. It was a pilgrimage and ecumenical encounter which will take time to process and learn from.”
In Alexandria the group was received by HG Bishop Pavley at St Mark’s Cathedral where they venerated the relics of St Mark at the shrine to his martyrdom in the first century AD. The group then turned to a more recent shrine – to those murdered by a suicide bomber on Palm Sunday 2017.
In Cairo the group was very moved at the Church of St Peter and St Paul as they prayed at the place where 28 women and girls and one man were killed by a suicide bomber in December 2016.
A spokesperson for the group said, “We were all struck by the resilience and determination of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Some of us may have expected to find a church in decline, but the resilient faith of the Church coping with the challenges and tragedies of martyrdom and persecution was a real inspiration to us all. The Christians we encountered witness at first-hand how the blood of martyrs, displayed so graphically where attacks took place, is the seed and inspiration of the Church. Rather than going underground or seeking retribution it was clear that they are responding in faith and with love to those who seek to persecute them.”
Fr Dominic added, “I am returning inspired and challenged by the sheer God-given resilience of the Christian Community where, despite these past few years in which hundreds have lost their lives at the hands of extremists, the Church is far from going underground but rising again with a resurgence of commitment to faith. Christians have a vital role to play in building bridges in Egyptian society and they realise that the vast majority of Muslims are their friends and do not support terrorism.”
As well as the Coptic hosts, the group included representatives of the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches and the Church of Scotland as well as representatives of the Awareness Foundation, Premier Christian Radio, Churches together in Britain and Ireland, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Aid to the Church in Need, the Conservative Middle East Council and Christians in Government. The hope is that this will be the start of future collaboration between these Churches on these issues of religious freedom so important at this time.
The group is encouraged that the Foreign Secretary has commissioned a report on the persecution of Christians.