01/07/2019, 11.53
EGYPT
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Fr. Rafic: Coptic Christmas in the new cathedral an 'event' for Christians and Muslims

Yesterday Tawadros II celebrated midnight mass in the presence of President al-Sisi and senior officials. The video message of greetings of Pope Francis re-broadcast by the Egyptian media. The desire to celebrate amid impressive security measures for fear of new attacks. In the new administrative capital, nearby church and mosque "sign of religious coexistence".

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The inauguration of the new Cathedral of the Nativity "was a great event for all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims", who gathered around the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and the President of the Republic.

From the leaders of government to the highest religious offices, among which the apostolic nuncio in Egypt, to the simple faithful, "thousands wanted to be present for the occasion” recounts Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesperson of the Egyptian Catholic Church.

Speaking to AsiaNews he describes the inauguration of the largest church in the Middle East in the new administrative capital of the Land of the Pharaohs,  as "evidence of religious coexistence, because next to the cathedral with over 7500 places, there is a mosque capable of holding up to 15 thousand people".

On the eve of the Feast Day, Pope Francis sent a video message to the Coptic community of Egypt "in the happy dedication of the new Cathedral of the Nativity". The pontiff hoped that "the Prince of peace will give to Egypt, to the Middle East and to the whole world the gift of peace and prosperity".

The Pope also addressed a "deferential greeting" to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and a "special greeting" to Pope Tawadros II and to the Coptic Orthodox Church "who was able to give a true witness of faith and charity even in the most difficult moments" .

Ier al-Sisi attended the inauguration of the cathedral, on the occasion of the midnight mass for Coptic Christmas. The head of state wanted to launch a message of dialogue and closeness to Christians in a nation characterized by confessional violence and attacks, even recent ones, which hit the Coptic minority at the hands of Islamic extremist groups.

Ahead of the celebrations, the authorities raised the level of alert and strengthened security near places of worship. Among the sensitive objectives there are Christian churches and places of worship, seen as a "weak link" in the chain and an accessible target for fundamentalists. Munir Adib, security expert, stresses that the Coptic minority "is an easy target" and "an attack against it also guarantees wide visibility" at an international level.

In a Muslim majority nation of almost 95 million people, Christians [especially Orthodox Copts] are a substantial minority of around 10% of the total population. Between 2016 and 2017 a series of bloody attacks targeted the Christian community itself.

High-ranking local and foreign officials attended the midnight mass, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the leader of the Arab League. Angham, a famous Egyptian singer, sang a song dedicated to coexistence. "This is an important moment for our history," said al-Sisi, addressing those present. "We are one thing - he added - and we will always remain [Christian and Muslim] one thing".

Before Mass, Coptic pope Tawadros II thanked the faithful, citizens and authorities present, underlining that "on this day you have kept the promise" of peaceful coexistence.

Francis’ message of greeting, underlines Fr. Rafic, has had "wide echo in the newspapers of the country. All the main media have reiterated the pontiff's declarations "confirming a special bond between Egypt and the Argentine pope. "Officials, from high office, simple citizens - continues the priest - have followed the event with attention and participation, one of the first events" that has seen as protagonist the future capital of the country, still nearing completion "in view of the inauguration next year ", with the transfer of administrative offices and representatives. "Even the Coptic Pope - confirms - will have an office here".

The inauguration of the complex took place amid "impressive security measures", at the highest levels following  anattempted attack on 5 January. A bomber died in an attempt to defuse a small bomb placed near a church, in an eastern suburb of Cairo.

"The church - says Fr. Rafic - is 10 km from my parish. We are careful, there are bodyguards and metal detectors at the entrances. However, the faithful do not seem to be afraid and want to celebrate in an atmosphere of joy and participation. Even from our Muslim friends - he concludes - we have received many greetings, despite some Salafite fatwas that slammed the practice as anti-Islamic. This is a good sign in terms of coexistence and dialogue ".

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