As the situation in Egypt grows more troubled by the hour, people in the country countinue to be sustained by faith. Catholic News Service reports this morning on the country’s long and deep Christian heritage:
The Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary sits in a tiled courtyard a few miles outside Cairo, on the left bank of the Nile as the river bends south toward Upper Egypt.
The structure’s front doors overlook the famed river, which Egyptian Christians who pray and worship here are convinced transported Mary, Joseph and their small boy, Jesus, to safety from persecution back home.
“In those times, this was a dock area from where the boats took off for Upper Egypt. The Holy Family came here from Palestine and got on one,” explained one of the church’s five priests, from an office overlooking the water.
Like the priest, many Copts — the name for Egypt’s indigenous Christians — trace their religion all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in their country from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.
Coptic tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist also came to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.
Christianity continued to spread among the locals called “Copts,” a derivative from the Greek word for Egypt, and by the third century, Christianity was the country’s dominant religion. By the time the newer religion of Islam arrived in Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the church with some of the world’s major Christian saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.
“The history of the Coptic Church is both glorious and tragic,” wrote Otto F.A. Meinardus in his authoritative book on Egyptian Christianity, “Christians in Egypt.” …
Tension between Egypt’s Copts and Muslims has long been a problem, but recently it has dangerously spiked, first since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow by popular revolt in 2011, and even more so since the military’s July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi was aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members the Egyptian military is now pursuing.
Violence has surged even further since 14 August, when security forces raided two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, which killed hundreds of people, most of them protestors.
Church leaders and independent human rights groups have recorded attacks on dozens of churches, schools, buildings, homes and other institutions belonging to Christians. Some non-Christian institutions have also come under attack in the violence, including government and security offices.