An interesting development in the Mideast – Egyptian Coptic Christians are flying to Jerusalem on an Easter pilgrimage. Previously they had been told by the late Pope Shenouda to stay away from the city while it remained under Israeli control.
According to Israel’s Y-Net News –
Some 50 Copts arrived in Israel on Thursday on a direct flight from Egypt to celebrate Monday of the third week of Easter, which takes place on April 15. The guests plan to tour holy sites in Jerusalem….This is just the second time since the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979 that a group of Copts arrives in Israel from Egypt, mainly because of the ban.
An Egyptian security source at the Cairo airport told Palestinian news agency Maan that additional groups would fly to Israel in the coming days, and that the total number of tourists could reach up to 4,000 people…Nevertheless, several senior Coptic Church officials have stressed in the past that the prohibition to visit Jerusalem was still valid and that there had been no decision to cancel it. As they did last year, church officials are threatening to punish anyone going to Jerusalem.
The Egypt Independent added –
Security sources at the Cairo International Airport said Air Sinai planned to construct an air bridge between Cairo and Tel Aviv to accommodate the pilgrims with four flights per day.
By Martin Roth
It’s good to see Amnesty International recognizing the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Here’s just a small part of the organization’s statement:
Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have, over time, documented a pattern of discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.
Under Hosni Mubarak, at least 15 major attacks on Copts were documented and the situation didn’t improve under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled the country between the downfall of Hosni Mubarak and the election of President Mohamed Morsi.
In 2013, Coptic Christian activists reported at least four attacks on Churches or affiliated buildings in addition to Wasta, taking place in the Governorates of Aswan, Beni Suef, Cairo, and Fayoum.
The authorities’ response to the violence has been poor, at best.
They have often favoured “reconciliation” over the prosecution of offenders as a way to address sectarian violence.
In addition, both Hosni Mubarak and the SCAF failed to end discriminatory practices preventing Copts from building or restoring houses of worship.
Churches have been closed or destroyed because the authorities alleged that the communities did not have the correct permissions to build or renovate. Presidential Decree 291/2005 makes repair or expansion of Christian churches subject to a permit from the regional governor. In some cases, this has reportedly been used by the local authorities to delay or impede the construction or repair of churches.
A Christian friend in Pakistan emails a simple message: “Not too many people here optimistic.”
Another email arrives, from International Christian Concern, with the subject line: “EMERGENCY RESPONSE: 200 Christian Homes Burned Down In Pakistan.”
A Pakistani newspaper, The News, carries a lengthy and horrifying history of the persecution of Christians in the country.
The history of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is not very old. Just 15 years ago, a Christian Ayub Masih was the first to be convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Ayub was accused by a neighbour of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.”
Though the lower court had upheld Ayub’s conviction, his lawyer was able to prove before the Pakistan Supreme Court that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih was resultantly released.
And then everything gets worse. The report details an appalling catalog of crimes against Christians.
It is difficult to be optimistic about Pakistan.
By Martin Roth
Nina Shea, author of the newly published “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” calls on Pope Francis I to “build on his two predecessors’ endeavors to bring aid and comfort to those who suffer for their religious beliefs.”
In particular, she says that:
* He should encourage the bishops to educate the faithful about the ongoing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. Sunday prayers could make specific references to the Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in indefinite detention in China; to the Christians languishing in North Korean detention camps merely for possessing a Bible; and to the Nigerians, Iraqis, and Egyptians whose churches have been repeatedly targeted in jihadi attacks and even blown up during worship services.
* In his tireless advocacy for the oppressed Eastern European churches, John Paul showed that action is also required. In the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, the persecution of Christians and other minorities has been exacerbated by the Arab Spring.
* Church-organized human-rights groups and justice-and-peace commissions became common features in Central America, Chile, and elsewhere in Latin America during the military dictatorships of the 1980s, and they were indispensable to advancing rights and freedoms. We need similar groups in many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African countries today. If the promise of Dignitatis Humanae is to be fulfilled, it is crucial that the laity be trained to document religious persecution and other human-rights abuses.