Archive of August 23, 2013

Pope calls for anti-human trafficking meeting at Vatican

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2013 (CNA) - At Pope Francis' request, Vatican experts will gather this upcoming November with the aim of better tackling the growing scourge of human trafficking.

“We must be grateful to Pope Francis for having identified one of the most important social dramas of our time and that he has had enough trust in our Catholic institutions to ask us to arrange this working group,” said Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The bishop's academy along with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations will meet to discuss a Vatican action plan to help combat what is often referred to as the modern slave trade.

“Trafficking in human beings is a terrible offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights,” Bishop Sánchez Sorondo told Vatican Radio on Aug. 22. “In this century, it acts as a catalyst in the creation of criminal assets.”

The group will meet at the Vatican City's Casina Pio IV, home of both the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo observed that the United Nations has begun to be aware of this growing crime “only in 2000,” together with the effects of globalization.

“The alarming increase in the trade in human beings is one of the pressing economic, social and political risks associated with the process of globalization,” he said. “It’s a serious threat to the security of individual nations and a question of international justice.”

A 2012 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on human trafficking says around 20.9 million victims are forced into labor globally. Each year, about two million people are victims of sex trafficking, 60 percent of whom are girls. The practice is not limited to poor and underdeveloped areas, but extends to all world regions.

“Some observers argue that, in a few years, trafficking in persons will exceed the trafficking of drugs and arms, making it the most lucrative criminal activity in the world,” the bishop warned.

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Dorothy Day teaches us about the human person, archbishop says

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 23, 2013 (CNA) - In light of the modern crisis of misunderstanding the human person, American social activist Dorothy Day is a model for viewing humanity correctly, says Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

After her conversion to the Catholic faith, the 20th century advocate for the poor went on “to lead a transfigured life, in the image of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop wrote in an Aug. 9 column for “The Tidings.”

“She became our country's most radical witness to Christ’s love for the poor and his call for us to be instruments of his peace and justice. She criticized, like a prophet, America’s failures to live up to its high ideals.”

Baptized in the Episcopal Church, Day lived her early years as a journalist as she toyed with communist ideas, attempted suicide and had an abortion.

After a profound conversion, she co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement and started soup kitchens, farm communities and a Catholic newspaper. Spending much of her time in New York, she dedicated her life to aiding and advocating for the poor, leading a life characterized by voluntary poverty, works of mercy and Scripture.

At their annual conference in Nov. 2012, the U.S. bishops heartily approved the advancement of her cause for canonization.

In his recent column, Archbishop Gomez said that Day's understanding of the human person was rooted in a realization that each person is created by God.

He quoted her saying that “a most wonderful sense of the glory of being a child of God swept over me. So joyous a sense of my own importance that I have reflected on it since. I would pray that (you) have it, and grow in it. This sense of (our) importance as … sons of God, divinized by his coming.”

Archbishop Gomez wrote that “these beautiful words give us a place to begin thinking about the foundations of Christian 'anthropology,' by which I mean of our vision of the human person.”

The archbishop's column was based on a talk given at the Napa Institute Conference earlier in the month. He said that the push for same-sex marriage and the acceptance of homosexual acts and transgenderism are based on a “basic confusion.”

“ We have no idea anymore in our society of what 'human nature' is or what it means to be a human person. And this is rooted in our loss of the sense of God in our society.”

He then pointed to Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization is open. Her understanding of herself as a person created by God in his image, is the understanding that has been lost in Western culture, the loss of which has lead to the 'culture wars' we are now in.

Because Day saw herself as a child created by God, she realized that “the human life has a God-given make-up – we are created as unity of body and soul, and who we are is crucially related to our sexuality, to whether we are made male or female.”

Western society has “almost totally rejected” this understanding of the human person, Archbishop Gomez wrote, leading to an “extreme individualism” where “people believe they have the ability to 'create' and 're-create' themselves … especially in the areas of their sexuality.”

By not seeing human life as a 'given', created as a “gift from God,” post-modern culture has regarded it as “a kind of 'raw material' which they can modify and re-fashion according to their own desires and their own sense of meaning and purposes.”

The forgetfulness that humanity is created by God is rooted in a forgetfulness that God even exists, wrote the archbishop. “When we forget our Creator, we forget what creation means.”

“We lose the sense of our own meaning as his creatures. That’s what’s happening in our society. If God is not our Father, then we are not brothers and sisters and we have no responsibility for one another.”

Without an acknowledgement of God, Western culture, formerly Christian, has slid toward relativism, which includes a “disintegration” of the idea of the human person.

In the face of this, Archbishop Gomez has begun to see “that the new evangelization must include … a new proclamation of our beautiful Catholic vision for the human person.”

“The men and women of our times need to hear … they are the glory of God, created and destined for the vision of God. They need to know that they are God’s image and that everyone they meet is God’s image, too.”

The new evangelization must teach people that persons have reason, and meaning to their lives, and that no one's life is “trivial.”

Our task in this moment is to restore this appreciation of the sacred image of the human person,” wrote Archbishop Gomez. “We need to bring this truth into our homes and neighborhoods and churches.”

Because every human person is created by God as a person, a being with reason and will, they have a nature and a purpose, and that, Archbishop Gomez wrote, must be shared in the new evangelization.

The God-given purpose of human life, he reflected is “holiness,” and “to live as God's image in the world.”

“So we need to help our neighbors to see that all our lives are not our project but God’s project. We are God’s works of art. Each one of us.”

“I’m convinced that this truth about the sacred image and destiny of the human person is a key to the new evangelization,” concluded Archbishop Gomez.

“We need to make this truth the substance of our preaching, our religious education, our work for justice.”

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Quest for ethical stem cells prompts moral questions

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The first human trials for the treatment of blindness using induced pluripotent stem cells has brought the hope of creating stem cell therapies that do not rely upon destroyed embryos back in the public eye.

However, moral and medical questions surrounding the research on “iPSCs” have raised questions about whether the process is living up to its hopes of providing an innovative advance in biotechnology without relying on the destruction of embryos.

“Morally, there is no doubt that iPSC technology is a huge improvement over destroying IVF embryos or cloning embryos to gain pluripotent stem cells,” Rebecca H. Taylor, a clinical lab specialist in molecular biology and author of the Catholic bioethics website “Mary Meets Dolly,” told CNA, “but they are not totally free from ethical issues.”

Taylor pointed to the widespread use of some “morally tainted” cell lines – that is, cells taken from aborted human beings – in various branches of scientific research, including in the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells.

The upcoming medical trial, approved by the Japanese government in late July, will be the first human trials using induced pluripotent stem cells.

To treat the patients’ macular degeneration, scientists will take cells from tissue elsewhere in the patients' bodies and introduce genetic factors that allow the adult cells to become pluripotent stem cells: a type of cell capable of turning into a wide variety of tissues.

Having converted the cells into stem cells, the scientists will program the cells to grow new retinal material which can then be transferred back into the patients' eyes. Since the tissue comes from the patient's own body, scientists expect that there will be little or no chance of rejection of the new retina pieces.

The scientists anticipate that this therapy will be able to stop damage and vision loss caused by macular degeneration, while current drug therapies can only slow the disease's progress.

The technique used in these human trials differs greatly from other stem cell techniques used in the past. Unlike adult stem cells, which are already coded to make only certain kinds of cells, the induced pluripotent cells can be harvested from a number of tissue sources, and turned into almost any other kind of tissue in the body.

The only other kind of tissue with such diverse potential is embryonic stem cells, which have been the subject of research hopes for decades.

Since embryonic stem cells come from “a human organism that is genetically different” than the subject who will be treated with them, Taylor explained, they are more likely to be rejected by the subject than are tissues grown from induced pluripotent stem cells.

“If proven safe to use in patients, iPSC technology may mean genetically-matched stem cell therapy for a variety of diseases,” she added.

The creation of induced pluripotent stem cells also offers the hope of a morally superior means of advancing stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have been the subject of controversy for nearly two decades because the harvesting of embryonic stem cells requires the controlled creation and subsequent destruction of human life in its earliest stages.

Since induced pluripotent stem cells offer “patient-specific pluripotent stem cells without creating and destroying a cloned embryo,” Taylor said, they offer a “huge improvement over destroying” human embryos for stem cell research.

However, norms surrounding the way scientists induce a pluripotent state introduce moral concerns to induced pluripotent stem cell research.

In order to induce a pluripotent state in adult cells, two things must typically happen: genetic factors must be introduced into the cell, and the factors must be activated. However, the current standard processes to achieve both of these steps involve the use and destruction of human embryos.

Dr. Mahendra Rao, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, explained to CNA that “the Yamanaka protocol is routine” in the medical community.

This process, created by Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, was used as a means of limiting the creation and destruction of embryos for research. His technique calls for the growth of factors in a human cell line, Hek293, and  the activation of those factors by a virus in order to induce a pluripotent state. This process will be used in the Japanese human trials.

However, the Hek293 cell line was begun with tissue taken from the kidney of a human person who was aborted in the Netherlands during the early 1970s.

“The fact that a cell line of illicit origin was used as a tool in this technique does morally taint the research,” Taylor explained.

She added that this cell line is “ubiquitous in labs all over the world,” and that it and other “cell lines derived from abortions that occurred decades ago are common tools in biotechnology.” Taylor added that it is so common, that she was “sure many researchers have no idea where these cell lines originated or that they are morally tainted.”

The use of this cell line and other research derived from aborted subjects has been addressed by Vatican theologians. In its 2005 “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses,” the Pontifical Academy for Life noted that even though the abortions occurred over 40 years ago, “they do not cease to pose ethical problems.”

They concluded that “vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis” if it is a life-threatening disease and there are no alternative vaccines.

Otherwise, Catholics and others who wish to respect life at all stages ought to abstain from their use, as well as further research using that technique.

The Pontifical Academy for Life emphasized, “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically,” and encouraged the creation and investigation of morally sound research alternatives.

In the years since the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells, there has been the creation of morally sound research alternatives, and new techniques that do not depend upon the destruction of embryos are in development.

The genetic factors used in the Yamanaka process can be cultured in “other cell lines, that were obtained morally,” Taylor clarified.

Brendan Foht, assistant editor of the bioethics journal The New Atlantis, explained to CNA that “there are other ways of getting those genes expressed and reprogrammed” that avoid the use of genetic factors and proteins altogether.

He noted that research has been done on moving past the Yamanaka process because of the virus’ tendency to mutate cells during the activation of the genetic factors, thus potentially creating cancers.

In 2008 Yamanaka discovered that pluripotent stem cells could be created through the introduction of plasmids – a ring of genetic material – into an adult cell. These rings of genetic code are easily grown in bacterial cells, and would not rely upon embryo destruction at all.

Scientists are also looking now to replace the use of the genetic factors with drug-like chemicals, which are created in a lab and do not depend upon growth in the objectionable embryonic cell line or any other living cell.

Given the forward steps toward creating ethically-produced induced pluripotent stem cells, the moral standing of the induced pluripotent stem cell trial in Japan is thrown into serious doubt.

Pointing to the Vatican’s statements on the use of vaccines relying on embryo-destructive research and their permissibility only in in life-threatening cases with no other moral alternatives, Foht suggested that the Japanese trial is immoral.

Even with the alternatives and breakthroughs present, however, Foht said pro-life advocates “need to persuade the scientific community to do ethical research,” and continue to speak against unethical and objectionable research.

Taylor echoed the need to speak out against induced pluripotent stem cell research that uses embryonic cells.

“We need to make sure that we object to cell lines of illicit origin whenever we hear of their use in science or medicine,” so that investigation of moral research will be continued and that “iPSC technology may soon be free of that particular moral stain.”

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Critics bash 'dimwitted' attack on Archbishop Chaput

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 23, 2013 (CNA) - An essay claiming that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was put in a “right-wing funk” by Pope Francis' popularity “completely misunderstood” the archbishop, his defenders say.

Two Catholic writers have strongly criticized an Aug. 17 National Catholic Reporter opinion essay by University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Charles J. Reid, Jr.

Reid used Archbishop Chaput's July 23 interview with National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. to argue that the archbishop is worried by “the sudden interest in the new Pope from unfamiliar quarters,” like non-practicing Catholics, non-Catholics and non-Christians.

The opinion essay accompanied a cartoon depicting an archbishop with little resemblance to Archbishop Chaput. The cartoon archbishop was shown under a raincloud and appeared to be depressed by a chart of Pope Francis' growing popularity.

Sharply responding to the piece on the “First Thoughts” blog of First Things magazine on Aug. 21, Matthew J. Frank wrote that the archbishop's interview with Allen instead showed him to be “unequivocally delighted with Pope Francis.”

“Literally his first comment on the Holy Father is, 'Thanks be to God that the Lord has given us a pope with such universal appeal to so many people.'”

Patrick Brennan, a blogger at the Catholic law blog Mirror of Justice, weighed in an Aug. 20 piece that Reid's essay was “an unjust portrayal of an exemplary bishop” whose summary did not resemble what the archbishop actually said.

In his essay, Reid goes on to suggest in his essay that Archbishop Chaput's comments that these people would prefer a church without “strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine” sounded like the older brother from the parable of the prodigal son, who was resentful on the return of his wayward brother.

Reid cited the archbishop’s description of contemporary culture as “pagan,” arguing that this description was a bar to evangelization. He also blamed “right wing” Catholicism for failing to reach the marginalized and sinners.

Frank countered that Reid “completely misunderstood” the archbishop, who does not believe that the Pope is less concerned about the moral life and about doctrine.

Archbishop Chaput’s references to the “right wing of the Church” did not include the archbishop himself, Frank noted. Rather, this referred to “people on the fringe” such as those drawn to the breakaway Society of St. Pius X.

“(T)his is not a faction with which Chaput identifies himself, and it strikes me as either very dimwitted or very willfully biased for Reid to understand Chaput that way,” Frank said.

“This misunderstanding feeds every other thing Reid gets wrong. It’s why he thinks – and this mistake is truly bizarre – that Chaput somehow rejects people being drawn to the Church anew by Francis's ministry.”

Brennan noted that Archbishop Chaput “decisively” countered any disaffection with Pope Francis, citing the Archbishop’s own words about the Pope: “I think he’s a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word.”

Frank rejected the idea that Catholic leaders like Archbishop Chaput had kept people way from the faith, noting that these leaders are “a large part of the reason” that he had returned to the Catholic faith and his wife had converted.

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Pope Francis to meet with refugees in Rome next month

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a few weeks, Pope Francis will make a short trip outside the walls of the Vatican City to the center of Rome to visit a group of refugees.

On the afternoon of Sept. 10, he will greet those who receive free meals at the Jesuit Refugee Center, located at the mother church of the Jesuits.

The Society of Jesus – or Jesuits – have been running the Center Astalli, located behind the Church of the Gesù, for 13 years, along with the help of volunteers.

The center, which offers free showers and one meal each day, also helps refugees become legal citizens of Italy and find jobs and a place to live.

The president of the Center Astalli, Father Giovanni La Manna, wrote a letter to Pope Francis in April inviting him for a visit.

Within a few days, the pontiff telephoned Fr. La Manna saying he accepted the invitation.

The encounter between Pope Francis and the refugees of different faiths will be in private and exclude protocols established for official visits.

Next week, the heads of the center will meet with the Vatican to establish the organizational aspects of the visit.

The center, which promotes interreligious and intercultural dialogue awareness, focuses on young generations as well as educational projects.

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Change in baptismal rite emphasizes Church's identity

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2013 (CNA) - In one of his last acts as Pope, Benedict XVI approved changed wording in the rite of baptism which emphasizes “the Church of God” as the community into which the baptized individual has been incorporated.

After having baptized a child, the minister will now receive him, saying, “The Church of God welcomes you with great joy,” according to a Feb. 22 decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship signed by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary.

The previous text read, “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.”

The change took effect March 31 in the Latin typical edition of the baptismal texts, and is to be implemented in future vernacular editions.

According to the decree, Benedict XVI established the change during an audience with Cardinal Canizares held Jan. 28.

The decree was recently published in “Notitiae,” the newsletter of the Congregation.

The opening text of the decree states: “The gate of life and of the kingdom, Baptism is the sacrament of faith, by which men are incorporated into the one Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.”

“Wherefore it seemed good to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of Baptism to introduce some changes … so that in (baptism) more light may be shed on the doctrinal teaching of the task and office of Mother Church.”

Vatican analyst Sandro Magister's commented in his Aug. 22 article in L'Espresso that the change emphasizes that “it is the Church of God … that receives those who are being baptized, and not generically the 'Christian community,'” which is ambiguous, and could refer merely to the local parish community or even other ecclesial communities.

Magister noted that Benedict XVI had in fact implemented the change in his own administration of baptism on Jan. 13, two weeks prior to his audience with Cardinal Canizares. According to Magister, when the emeritus Pope celebrated baptism that day in the Sistine Chapel, his annual custom, he said in Italian, “Dear children, with great joy the Church of God welcomes you.”

The present Italian text reads, “With great joy our Christian community welcomes you,” even though “our” is not included in the Latin text.

Prior to this year, when Benedict XVI celebrated baptism in Italian as Pope, he had omitted this “our,” conforming the Italian he pronounced to the Latin typical edition.

“Perhaps,” Magister concluded, “it is precisely that excessively self-referential 'our' that induced the pope theologian to decide on the change.”

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Faith can overcome secularism, Archbishop Chaput tells Latinos

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Stressing the importance of personal witness to counter secular trends among Hispanics, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia today praised the work of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders.

“Hispanic culture still has a soul formed by an encounter with Jesus Christ, and the humanity and compassion that flow from it,” Archbishop Chaput said Aug. 23 at the association's national conference.

“These things are worth fighting for and sharing with others. Faith matters because it gives meaning to the word ‘human’ in ‘human beings.’ It matters because it makes us children of a loving God.”

He was addressing the eighth annual conference of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, held in Los Angeles Aug. 23-25.

The association is dedicated to the spiritual formation of Latino leaders and to community service and cultural and educational projects. Its members include business, professional and community leaders.

Archbishop Chaput said he and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles had helped launch CALL to “to create a professional organization that would support Hispanic Catholic leaders.”

“We wanted to help those leaders renew the heart of an America that has become more and more confused, and more and more remote from its founding ideals. All of you here today are a testimony to what we hoped to accomplish. I’m very, very grateful to be a part of your work.”

However, he warned that the strength of Catholicism among Latinos is weakening.

He said American Latinos leave the Catholic Church “at a sobering rate.” Almost 70 percent of foreign-born Hispanics are Catholic, but only 40 percent of third-generation Hispanics are.

The Latina abortion rate is higher than the national average, while Hispanic support for same-sex “marriage” rose from 31 percent to 52 percent between 2006 and 2012.

“I think Archbishop José and I probably underestimated the ability of American culture to digest and redirect any new influence that comes from outside our borders.”

“In some ways, the Hispanic social and political profile is barely distinguishable from American national trends. The idea that Latinos, simply by their presence, might restore the moral tenor of our public discourse is a delusion.”

He said American consumer culture and its “eager little idolatries” such as practical atheism, “manufactured appetites,” distractions, noise, and toys, is “simply too strong.”

“As a nation, Americans pay lip service to God on our coinage while forcing him out of our public life everywhere else. And in God’s place we’ve created an avalanche of empty choices and phony little godlings that promise to feed our inner hungers and do nothing but starve us instead.”

Archbishop Chaput said this should not be a cause for despair, however

“An immense reservoir of goodness and hope still resides in the world. We need to remember that and act on it.”

He cited the friendliness of strangers in Latin America who showed “spontaneous, unexpected warmth” to his friends’ son with Down syndrome.

The archbishop noted how those with Down syndrome face many health problems, including early dementia. Many will one day fail to recognize the family members who loved them and sacrificed for them.

While some people focus on the heartache and “bleak” futures of those with Down syndrome, Archbishop Chaput said that the Catholic focus is different.

“No love is fruitless. No love is wasted. Every life is precious. We trust in a loving God who is love itself; a God who pours out an unearned, redeeming kind of love on every one of his creatures; a God who became love incarnate to make all things new.”  

Archbishop Chaput said faith is important because “we can’t trust a God we don’t believe in.”

“Faith matters because hope and love can’t bear the weight of the suffering in the world without it. Faith matters because it reminds us that there’s good in the world, and meaning to every life; and that the things that make us human are worth fighting for. Faith matters because it drives us to do what’s right.”

Faith can even grow and spread in apparently fruitless times, he noted.

He cited the Letter to the Hebrews’ description of Abraham who, though he was “as good as dead,” had “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and countless as sands on the seashore.”

“That’s the power of faith. That’s the fertility of personal witness. If CALL helps accomplish that kind of conversion in each of your lives, if CALL helps you strengthen each other in your Catholic faith and in your vocation as Christian leaders, then God will use it, and use you, to bring new life to our nation.”

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Protest over Egypt violence draws hundreds to nation's capital

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Hundreds of Egyptian Christians and Muslims gathered in Washington. D.C., on Aug. 22 to protest acts of terror directed against minorities – particularly Coptic Christians – in Egypt.

“You can burn down our churches, but you can never touch our faith,” said one protester at the march. “Burning 100 churches is terrorism, not Morsi legitimacy,” said another.

Violence erupted in Egypt after government security forces broke up camps of protestors allied with the Muslim Brotherhood on Aug. 14. The protesters had been demanding that President Mohammed Morsi be returned to power after he had been ousted by the military last month.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the violent clashes that have followed. Coptic Christians – who make up 10 percent of the population in Egypt – have been particularly targeted in attacks attributed to terrorists who are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

More than 60 churches have been attacked, along with numerous homes, businesses and institutions owned by Christians. The protests in downtown Washington, D.C., were held in response to the violence.

Atef Jacoub of Coptic Solidarity, who helped organize the event, explained to CNA that some 500 Muslims and Christians from across the country participated in the march “in support of the interim government in Egypt.”

The march route began at the White House, taking protesters past the Washington Post offices and the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Jacoub charged that the regime under former president Mohamed Morsi had treated the Coptic Christian community poorly.

“Many Coptic persons were killed” by the previous government, and those supporting him after his ousting, Jacoub said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of the Morsi presidency “abuse the Christian community much more than the regular Egyptian community.”

Michael Hanna, a Coptic Christian who attended the march, said he joined the protest because “I am against terrorism.”

“Copts like me are here today,” he said, because some “68 churches that have been burnt,” and in the wake of the violence, “they feel like Christians are targets.”

He added that if governments “play a democratic game, you have to respect all rules of the democratic game” and respect all persons.

Suzanne El Nahel, another protester at the march, echoed Hanna’s comments. “To rule as a democracy, you have to respect minorities – whether they are Muslims, Christians or any other faction,” she said.

She noted that members of “the Muslim Brotherhood burned Coptic churches, Catholic churches, Evangelical churches in Egypt.”

“We cannot live like that in Egypt,” she said.

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