.- Egypt's Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib has encouraged his flock to “persevere in hardship” and “keep praying,” after the violence and deaths that plagued a recent Christian protest.
“With wounded hearts, we join all the sincere forces of our nation, responsible for the present and the future of our beloved country, to express our deep sorrow for the bloody events, suffered by honest and sincere children of the nation,” the Eastern Catholic leader said in a statement on the Oct. 9 riots.
“They wanted to contribute to the country's democratic process, with peaceful demonstrations, like hundreds of other citizen groups,” the patriarch recalled. “Unfortunately, it ended with the violent death of around 25 people, the majority of whom were Copts, and 329 injured.”
Patriarch Naguib recalled the advice of Saint Paul, who told the persecuted Roman Church of the first century: “Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be in peace with everyone … Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.”
He said the Egyptian Church was looking to this message for direction, “at this time in which it is difficult to have a clear vision for the present and the future.”
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, which follows similar traditions but is not in communion with Rome, declared three days of fasting and mourning after the violence, which was the worst seen in Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak left office.
It began after an estimated 10,000 Coptic Christians marched to Cairo demanding legal protection against violence and discrimination. The group encountered violent opposition from thugs on the way, and witnesses said soldiers later fired indiscriminately on the crowds and ran over Copts with their vehicles.
Army leaders responded to international criticism by claiming the vehicular deaths were unintentional, a result of frightened soldiers attempting to flee. They pointed to instances of alleged violence by some protesters, who were accused of throwing rocks and bottles at soldiers and attacking their armored personnel carriers.
The Coptic Catholic patriarch said he was united in prayer and fasting with the Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Shenouda III and his faithful, “so that God may give his peace to our dear country.”
Patriarch Naguib said Egypt's interim military government must “take the necessary steps and firm measures to provide security and safety, establish clear and stable solutions to the problems that cause tension and conflict, uphold the law's supremacy in dealing with conflicts and crimes, and ensure the objectivity of the media.”
He also stressed the Coptic minority's duty to remain engaged in public life during a time of change. Civic action, he said, is “a sacred duty, which it is not allowed to abdicate.”
The patriarch hopes Christian participation in Egyptian politics will establish “a modern democratic State, based on the law, full citizenship, equality, justice, and the guarantee of freedoms.”
Egypt’s first elections since the fall of Mubarak were first set to take place in September but the military rulers have postponed them to late November.
“May the almighty and loving God help us, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he prayed, “for his glory and the good of the whole country.”