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New Coptic Catholic Leader: Church Must Cross Sectarian Lines

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac distributes Communion on 18 March during the liturgy for his enthronement, or installation, at the Coptic Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin in Cairo. The patriarch said addressing his community’s hard ships and trying to dissuade Christians from leaving their homeland will remain among his most difficult challenges. (photo: CNS/James Martone) 

18 Mar 2013 – By James Martone

CAIRO (CNS) — Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac said rising social and economic troubles since the revolution are leading to the despair and emigration of the country’s Christians and Muslims alike, and that his church must work across sectarian lines to restore “lost confidence” in the predominantly Muslim North-African nation.

“Our challenge is that we reclaim our Egyptian identity and our concern for all Egyptians and for our culture. We have lost confidence in ourselves. We had transitioned and were ready to start anew and build and progress, but nothing has happened, and this is the [the church’s] challenge: that people here can again have a good life, on the human level, and economic level,” Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac said.

Since the January 2011 revolution that led to the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, insecurities and violence in Egypt have scared off the country’s foreign investors and tourism, which previously generated major sources of national income and jobs.

First attempts at democratic elections have seen the rise to power of a conservative Islamic government, which opposition forces are disputing. Demonstrations and strikes in the country are increasingly violent and often fatal.

All of this has resulted in what the patriarch said was a general state of chaos and “lack of clarity” in Egypt, leading many of its citizens, including thousands of Christians, to seek security abroad.

The patriarch spoke to Catholic News Service from his residence in Cairo on 14 March, two days after his enthronement ceremony, where he officially replaced the former Coptic Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Antonius Naguib, who stepped down earlier this year due to illness.

“Our children are emigrating out of Egypt, and it is no longer emigration in search of work. It is emigration in search of security, and out of fear,” said Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac, adding that, as former bishop in the southern Egyptian governorate of Minya, Catholics had been coming to him in growing numbers over the last two years, expressing concern for the future of their families.

Addressing such hardships and trying to dissuade Christians from leaving the homeland will remain among the Coptic Catholic Church’s most difficult challenges, he said.

“People come and they can’t even meet the most basic needs of their children, such as food and shelter, and the church is expected to solve this problem, and that is extremely difficult. All I can do is to tell them: We are here in our country; we have a message. Yes we have difficulties here, but there are difficulties outside too,” he said.

“But in the end, they are the ones suffering,” he continued, “and they tell me: ‘Your words are very beautiful, patriarch, but I am not traveling for myself. I am doing it for my children and their future.’ ”

Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac, 57, said that Christians “could be having more difficulties now,” than before the revolution, but stopped short of calling it persecution, as some church leaders have done.

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Tags: Egypt Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Coptic Catholic Church