May 8, 2011

Churches on Fire

I was disheartened to read this morning that a mob set a church on fire in Cairo. This is the latest in a series of violent inter-religious incidents that began on New Year's Day with the bombing of a church in Alexandria, in which twenty-three people died. I worry that the loosening of the political strictures has also freed people to express long-repressed emotions about the "other side." Christians form a substantial, prominent minority in Egypt (10-15%). Their religious practices and religious language (Coptic) are deeply connected to the ancient pharaonic religion.

Though many Egyptians, Muslim and Christian, are viscerally antagonistic toward each other, there are some outstanding exceptions. My wife and I spent three wonderful years working with Mennonite Central Committee in Beni Suef, where we were seconded to the Orthodox Church. Our supervisor, Father Youssef Andrawas, was one of the most saintly people I've encountered, with a passion for creating dialogue between Muslims and Christians. You can read a first-person account of his life and ministry, as well as a bit about our work, in this issue of A Common Place magazine (PDF file).

Beautifully, Christians met in their burned-out church on Sunday to celebrate mass (both images are from Storyful):

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