Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow over violent clashes in Cairo that left many Egyptian Christians dead and hundreds wounded.
“I am deeply saddened by the violence that was committed in Cairo on Sunday,” the Pope said at the Oct. 12 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“I join in the sorrow of the families of the victims and the entire Egyptian people, torn by attempts to undermine the peaceful coexistence between its communities, which is rather essential to preserve, especially in this time of transition,” he said.
The violence erupted on Sunday during a peaceful demonstration being held by Egyptian Coptic Christians and other members of civil society. They wanted to highlight recent attacks by Islamist extremists on a church in the southern city of Aswan and the reluctance of government forces to protect Christian interests.
But Sunday’s gathering turned violent when the army reacted to attacks from still unidentified thugs. Troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators and drove their military vehicles haphazardly through the crowd, crushing some of those protesting. In total, 24 people were killed – including at least 17 Christians – with 272 being injured.
The Pope urged the faithful to pray that Egyptian society can “enjoy a real peace based on justice, respect for freedom and the dignity of every citizen.”
The governance of Egypt has been in flux since the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship in February 2011. Democratic elections are planned to begin on Nov. 28, but in the interim the country is being governed by the military.
The Pope said that the Egyptian authorities – civil and religious – should try to build a new society that “respects the human rights of everyone, and particularly minorities, to the benefit of national unity.” It is estimated that about 10 percent of Egyptians are Christian.