The leader of Catholic Copts has called on the world to pray for peace in Egypt amid growing tensions as millions throng the streets in rival protests.
Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria highlighted the growing crisis and unrest across the country in the build-up to a weekend of demonstrations marking one year since Mohammed Morsi became the country’s first Islamist president.
With protests already attracting nearly three million people and signs the numbers will dwarf those who prompted the February 2011 downfall of President Mubarak, Patriarch Sidrak said, “I call on people around the world: please pray, please pray that there is no more bloodshed.”
The patriarch’s call for prayer was made during a meeting Friday, June 28th June, with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Both Patriarch Sidrak and Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, have told their faithful to “follow their conscience,” saying they are free to protest if they wish.
Patriarch Sidrak went on to tell ACN, “Christians here do not use violence. Young people are more assertive now and will protect themselves.”
“As Christians, we are always together with moderate Muslims against what will harm Egypt.”
Patriarch Sidrak said that since the fall of Mubarak at least 200,000 Christians have left the country “party for economic reasons and partly through fear.”
He said, “Some people feel that Christians are second class citizens and are made to feel that they are not real Egyptians.”
Reiterating the appeal for prayer, Father Rafic Greiche, press officer for the Catholic Church in Egypt, told ACN, “Christians in Egypt are trapped in this situation between normal Muslims and the fundamentalist ones that suddenly emerged after the revolution leading to the fall of Mubarak.”
His statement comes amid reports that a petition opposing Mr. Morsi and calling for early presidential elections has attracted up to 20 million signatures, outnumbering votes cast for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in last year’s presidential elections.
Commenting on the petition’s popularity, Fr. Greiche told ACN, “The Christians are not sheep. The Copts are free to participate in protests.”
“All of us should pray for change, for social justice, for the poor, for religious freedom and for freedom of conscience.”
He said that sectarian attacks were now taking place almost daily whereas in the whole of Mubarak’s 30-year presidency, there had been 1,600.
With reports stating that up to three million people were out protesting across Egypt the evening of Thursday, June 27th, one Muslim cleric warned ACN that there is danger of a civil war.
One a young Coptic Christian man, Ramy, aged 27, also told ACN, “We must take courage. We Christians must be brave and be salt and light to the world.”
With picture of protestor with Egyptian flag (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.