Religious leaders in Egypt are reiterating that the ongoing conflict is not Christian vs. Muslim violence but a war against terrorism. Instead, members of both religions are protecting one another’s sacred places from further attacks and destruction.
On Aug 20, Msgr. Youhannes Zakaria, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Luxor, told Fides that more than 80 different churches and several Christian schools had been burned. Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops in Egypt, told Fides that these religious institutions belong to Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant communities.
“It should be emphasized that Muslims who live in the vicinity of the affected churches have helped men and women religious to put out the fires of the religious buildings,” said Fr. Greiche.
“This is not a civil war between Christians and Muslims,” he said, “It is not a civil war but a war against terrorism. And the majority of the population is against terrorism and religious extremism.”
From Cairo, the Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim I. Sedrak in an open message expressed the Catholic Church’s “free, strong and conscious support” for the state institutions and the armed forces and police of Egypt for trying to protect their homeland. He also asked “sincere nations to understand the nature of events while flatly rejecting any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of Egypt or influence its sovereign decisions.”
Pope Francis in his Sunday address and Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria have urged an end to violence.
Pope Tawadros has asked the faithful not to respond to any of the violence: “Will they burn the churches? We will pray in the mosques. Will they burn the mosques? We will pray in the churches. Will they burn both? We will pray together in the streets, for we are all Egyptians.”
The prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, told the French edition of Vatican Radio that the destruction of Christian churches is unacceptable. “The revival of the country must take place in respect of the human person, in the mutual respect of all religions, in respect for religious freedom,” he added, affirming that religion cannot be used to justify violence.
On Aug 22, Pope Francis spoke to Japanese junior high school students about the value of meekness in knowing how to dialogue and not fight among cultures.