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Coptic Patriarch Fearful, yet Hopeful for Egypt’s Future

Cardinal Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, gives Communion as Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville, Tenn., looks on during Mass at St. Patrick Church in Nashville on 23 July. Cardinal Naguib visited Nashville as part of a tour of Coptic Catholic communities across the United States and to help build the Coptic community in the diocese. There are five established Coptic Catholic congregations in the U.S., in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Brooklyn, N.Y. (photo: CNS/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register) 

11 Aug 2011 – by Andy Telli

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — In the wake of the revolution that toppled Egypt’s authoritarian government last winter, the country’s Christians remain fearful, yet hopeful, said Cardinal Antonios Naguib, patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church.

“I think that (the people) are afraid,” said Cardinal Naguib during a recent visit to Nashville. The revolution has provided a historic opening for equality and freedom for people of all faiths in Egypt, but the prospects for Christians depend on the future government, he added.

“At the same time we have much hope it will be better than before,” Cardinal Naguib said.

The cardinal is the leader of the Coptic Catholic Church, based in Egypt and one of the Eastern Catholic churches.

While most of the world’s Coptic Catholics live in the African nation, many have immigrated to nations around the world. During a visit to the United States Cardinal Naguib stopped in Nashville July 22-25 to meet the local Coptic Catholic community.

Egypt’s total population is about 86 million, the vast majority of whom are Muslim. Christians account for about 8 million of that number, Cardinal Naguib said. There are about 250,000 Coptic Catholics and about the same number of Protestants in Egypt, and the rest of the country’s Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, Cardinal Naguib said.

Christians “can’t speak of persecution, but we can’t speak of complete equality,” Cardinal Naguib said.

Christians are denied access to holding top positions in some sectors of Egyptian society, he explained, such as the police and army. Some universities also refuse to accept Christians and some positions in the medical and legal fields are barred to Christians, he said.

The Egyptian government also places restrictions on Christian churches that make it difficult for them to grow, according to Cardinal Naguib.

“We’re calling for religious freedom,” he said. “Not only religious freedom. In general we would say freedom and equality and basing the government on citizenship and not just religion.”

“The society still lacks security,” Cardinal Naguib explained, and Christian churches have been attacked since the revolution. Most of the violence has been targeted at the Coptic Orthodox churches, and only one Coptic Catholic church has been attacked, he said.

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Tags: Egypt Middle East Arab Spring Coptic Christians Cardinal Antonios Naguib