The Coptic Christians of Egypt have announced a march of one million people to protect the Cathedral of San Marco from the protests of a Muslim group.
One Catholic missionary in the country is cautioning against seeing the action as a move toward inter-religious conflict.
Several Coptic movements have announced a May 6 protest march to protect the cathedral in the Cairo suburb of Abbasseya. On April 29 thousands of Salafi Muslims staged a sit-in protest in front of the cathedral to seek the “release” of Kamilia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic priest who they claim converted to Islam and is now allegedly being held captive and pressured to return to Coptic Christianity.
“We must be careful not to give hasty judgments. We must wait until the situation evolves, without excluding any possibility of development,” Fr. Luciano Verdoscia told Fides news agency.
The priest, a Comboni missionary who has been working in Egypt for many years, pointed out that some analysts say the Salafis do not represent a very large group. However, they can “make themselves heard.”
He said that religious sensibility in Egypt has always been very high among both Muslims and Christians.
“We religious coming from outside feel it, too: one tends to withdraw into a kind of ghetto, where life is pretty good and you can do your business. What is outside of one`s community is seen as a threat from which one must be protected,” Fr. Verdoscia said.
He said work is needed to overcome this mentality.
The famous anti-government protests in Tahrir Square were based on a different logic and drew strength from the internet, which does not reach the 40 percent of the Egyptian population living “in poverty and ignorance.”
“In this segment of the population remains only the religious identity which is easily influenced,” the priest explained.
While not everyone is influenced by extremist preachers, they do have sway over 20 to 30 percent of the population, “a significant number of people.”
“We hope that through education and greater economic prosperity, people can start thinking differently. The young people of Tahrir Square, who come from areas with some economic opportunities and are more educated, have in fact a different mentality,” he told Fides.