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Church Bombing In Egypt

A Coptic Orthodox woman cries during a 3 January prayer service for her relatives who were victims of a New Year's Day bombing outside an Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt. (Photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters) 

04 Jan 2011 – by Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — An Egyptian Catholic leader said he had received many messages of support from Muslims after a Jan. 1 Orthodox church bombing that killed about two dozen people.

Other Mideast Catholic leaders also sent messages of support to their fellow Christians. The head of Catholic Relief Services in Egypt said he was afraid the bombing indicated a renewal of sectarian violence.

“We have to pray. We have to pray for peace,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

He said he has received many visits from Muslims — ordinary individuals and officials, including the governor — expressing their sympathy and solidarity after the attack on the Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt.

“They (Muslims) don’t accept this violence. They are very upset about this,” he said.

Bishop Zakaria said he would celebrate Christmas Mass, as the Coptic Orthodox do, Jan. 7, and the governor would also speak about the importance of friendship and dialogue among religions and people. In some Middle East countries, Catholics and Orthodox have agreed to celebrate major religious holidays on the same dates to avoid confusion for the faithful.

In Cairo, Jason Belanger, country representative for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, said police had put up barricades to prevent cars from parking next to major Christian churches and had cordoned off areas around them to control pedestrian traffic in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

“This is a terrible way to start 2011,” Belanger said. “It’s scary.”

Belanger said the attack was the largest attack against Coptic Christians in the past 10 years, and he was concerned this could signal an increase of attacks not only against Christians in Egypt but against Christians in the entire Middle East.

Others also saw the attacks as part of a plot against Mideast Christians, but one commentator said religious rhetoric and media reports might have led to the bombings.

“It is a clear criminal and terrorist act targeting innocent Christians,” Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, said in a statement during a pastoral visit to Egypt. “It is a phenomenon that calls for anxiety and vigilance that Christians might be a target for terrorist acts which move from one area to another.”

The patriarch called for Arab and international action against terrorism.

“The targeting of Christians is a clear plan to empty the Orient of its basic components,” he said.

At the Vatican Jan. 1, World Peace Day, Pope Benedict XVI called the bombing a “despicable gesture of death” and part of a “strategy of violence that targets Christians.” He said the bombing had repercussions on the entire Egyptian population and offered prayers for the victims and their families.

Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, Lebanon, called for an Islamic summit to stop attacks targeting Christians in Egypt and Iraq. He also called on the Arab League to meet to protect the safety of both Christians and Muslims.

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