Following the murder of Christians in Egypt through two bombings during Palm Sunday liturgies, bishops around the world joined Pope Francis in prayer.
“We also pray for our Coptic Orthodox sisters and brothers who continue to be resilient in the face of ongoing and escalating attacks, and who resist the urge to react vengefully or reciprocally,” said Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
Two Egyptian Coptic Orthodox churches in Alexandria and Tanta, in the north of the country, were bombed during their Palm Sunday services. The attacks killed at least 44 and injured more than 100, Reuters reported. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
In Tanta, an explosion rocked Mar Gerges Coptic Orthodox church during the Palm Sunday liturgy. A state investigation said it was a suicide bombing. A bomb had been found and disabled at the church a week before, a police official told Reuters.
Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber rushed the outside of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria where Tawadros II, Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, was celebrating the liturgy, and detonated his explosives. Security details had reportedly been placed outside of both churches.
The attacks came only weeks before Pope Francis plans to visit Egypt to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the country. Pope Francis, after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square, decried the violence and asked God to “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.” He also expressed solidarity with Tawardos II.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency in Egypt following the attacks. Sunday’s atrocities follow a months-long spike in anti-Christian violence in Egypt, particularly in the country’s Sinai region.
In December, 29 died in a bombing of a chapel next to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo, where ISIS took credit for the attack.
Then several Christians were attacked and killed in their homes and villages by ISIS affiliates in the Sinai region in the following months. Hundreds fled their homes as a result of the violence. In total, 40 were reported killed in the bombing and in the ensuing three months.
The advocacy group In Defense of Christians voiced their “solidarity with Egypt, particularly Egypt’s Christian community,” and senior advisor Andrew Doran stated that “we call on Egypt's government to use all necessary means to make places of worship in Egypt safe, especially those systematically targeted by terrorists.”
Bishops in the U.S. also condemned the bombings and declared their solidarity with Christians in Egypt.
“They were at Church. They were praying. And in the midst of what should be peace, horrible violence yet again,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Sunday.
“Our Holy Father has pointed out – and it’s something that the statisticians have pointed out in recent years – that there are more Christians dying for the faith today than ever happened under the Roman authorities at the time of the pagan empire,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. said at the end of Palm Sunday Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington.
Ultimately, the greatest thing Christians can do for their brothers and sisters in Egypt is pray, especially during Holy Week, the bishops said.
“May Our Lady, Queen of Peace, intercede for us as we pray for an end to all violence,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington reflected on Sunday.
“So I would ask you today, and during this Holy Week when you are lifting up your hearts in prayer, to remember them [the Coptic Christians],” Cardinal Wuerl emphasized.
“They have no voice. They have no one to speak for them. They have no one to stand up for them. But we can at least remember them as part of the Body of Christ being crucified in our day today. We pray for them.”
Cardinal DiNardo joined in Pope Francis’s prayers for the victims, the perpetrators, and those trafficking in weapons.
“I also pray for the nation of Egypt, that it may seek justice, find healing, and strengthen protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities who wish only to live in peace,” he said.
Bishop Angaelos viewed the suffering of Egypt’s Christians through the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter Sunday
“As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, we now also mark the entry of those who have passed today into the heavenly Jerusalem,” he said of the bombings. “As we continue into the Holy Week of our Savior, we share in the pain and heartbreak of their families and of all those affected by today’s incidents.”
“As we celebrate the Feast of the glorious Resurrection at the end of this week, we are reminded that our life here on earth is a journey often filled with pain, at the end of which is a promised glorious and eternal life void of such suffering and evil.”