.- Pope Francis joined proponents of religious liberty in voicing grief at the “painful news” of more than 600 deaths and numerous attacks on Christian churches in a recent wave of violence in Egypt.
“I wish to ensure my prayers for all the victims and their families, the injured and all those who are suffering,” the Pope said before the Angelus prayer Aug. 15. “Let us pray together for peace, dialogue and reconciliation in that dear nation and throughout the world.”
On Aug. 14, Egyptian security forces broke up the camps of protesters allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. The protesters were demanding the restoration to power of President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by the military last month.
Over 200 protesters were killed, as were several dozen policemen.
The death toll rose to at least 638 people in violence across Egypt on Aug. 15, as hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members responded by setting fire to a government building near Cairo, the BBC reports.
Much of Egypt has been placed under curfew and Christian churches have come under attack.
In Suez, a convent of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd and the adjacent school and hospital were robbed and set on fire. A Franciscan church was also set ablaze, the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria reported.
In the northeastern city of Minya, there was another attack on the Coptic Catholic church Mar Guirgis, which had previously been attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. There were fires at a Jesuit church, the Coptic Catholic Church of St. Mark, and a convent and school of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
In the north central city of Beni Souef on the Nile River, there was a fire at the Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In the central Egypt city of Asyut, there was a fire at the Franciscan Church of St. Therese and at a convent of Franciscan sisters.
At Cairo’s Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, attackers threw stones and assaulted the doors of the church but failed to enter.
More than 25 other attacks targeted Orthodox and Evangelical churches, the patriarchate reports.
Pope Francis addressed the violence in his remarks after the Mass for the Feast of the Assumption. He sought the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
“Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us,” he told crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Aug. 15. “Let's all say it, Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.”
One Christian leader, speaking anonymously to the evangelical Christian group Open Doors USA, lamented in particular the death of 10-year-old Jessica Boulos, who was murdered last week while returning home from her Bible study at a Cairo evangelical church.
The Christian leader said her death by “a fanatic Muslim gunman” is “unbearable” and “continues to throw its shadows of pain on her broken family and the entire Christian community of Egypt.”
“In all of this mess, the loss of church buildings is great, but not to be compared with the loss of the many souls, the pains of the wounds and the fear and anxiety that have filled the hearts of all that can yet happen in Egypt today and the days to come. Buildings can eventually be re-built, but when lost, souls can never be restored.”
Nina Shea, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, wrote in an article for National Review Online that the U.S. has shown an alarming indifference to the plight of Christians in Egypt.
“The Copts are not part of the military assault against Muslim Brotherhood protesters in two of Cairo’s squares, and were but one of many factions of Egyptian society that supported the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi,” Shea observed.
However, she charged, “the Copts have been scapegoated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists since the beginning of the July 3 military intervention.”
She criticized the U.S. government for failing to take stronger action against the violent targeting of religious sites, property and houses of worship.
When U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf was questioned about the attacks at a recent press conference, Shea asserted, she simply said that the government is “concerned” and will “continue speaking out against this” in an effort towards “moving forward with a democratic process.”
“Beyond the general aim of ‘moving forward with a democratic process,’ the Obama administration apparently has no policy specifically directed to help this religious minority,” Shea said.