INSIDE: BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II AND THE MEANING OF FATIMA
FEATURE: PAGE 9
May 13 2011 £1.50 (Republic of Ireland €1.80)
Copts live in fear after new church attack BY ED WEST
RELIGIOUS leaders in Egypt fear there will be anarchy and civil war between Christians and Muslims after anti-Christian violence intensified last weekend.
Twelve people were killed and over 200 injured after Islamists attacked two churches in Cairo in what Christian leaders described as an “organised attack”.
The street battles began last Saturday outside St Mina’s church in Imbaba, a poor suburb of Cairo that has been a stronghold of Islamic fundamentalists since the 1970s.
Several hundred followers of the hardline Salafi strain of Islam congregated outside the church, which they claimed was holding hostage a Coptic woman who had converted to Islam, a common rumour in Egypt.
Muslims and Christians outside the church threw stones at each other and Christian-owned shops were vandalised and burned, while both sides appeared to fire guns.
The mob then burned down St Mina’s, and shot dead a guard, before attacking the nearby Coptic Orthodox church of the Virgin Mary, beating the watchman to death. Some reports say that altogether as many as five churches were attacked.
The Salafists shouted: “We sacrifice our souls and blood for Islam.” The Christians chanted: “We sacrifice our souls and blood for the Holy Cross.” Copts also clashed with soldiers and police, whom they accused of standing aside while the attacks took place. Twelve people, most of them believed to be Christian, were killed in the attacks, which followed weeks of growing tension following the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Fr Cherubim Awad, parish priest of St Mina’s, claimed that a conspiracy was behind the growing violence that had engulfed relations between Christians and Muslims in recent weeks.
He said: “Five churches were attacked on the same night. From the beginning of this year we have had all these attacks in a short space of time. There is some hidden hand behind this, whether from inside the country or outside it.”
Fr Awad also said the army had failed to protect the church and had not broken up the fighting.
The priest described how the mob of Salafists performed evening prayers 60 feet from the church and shouted: “We want you to leave.”
Fr Awad said: “Are we not citizens? Are we foreigners? Should we leave this country now and go away?”
Since the Egyptian revolution in February hardline Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the banned Gamaa Islamiya, which was responsible for the Luxor massacre in which 62 tourists were murdered, have become more openly active.
Ali Gomaa, the country’s Grand Mufti, or senior Islamic scholar, has said there was potential for civil war. He said: “Outlaws want to defy the authority of the state.”
Cardinal Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, has spoken of “a very serious situation”.
Meanwhile, Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza said the Egyptian police and army were frightened to act as the violence erupted.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, Bishop Aziz called for those responsible to be brought to justice, accusing fanatics of wanting civil war.
Bishop Aziz said: “The police need to say clearly to those who have done this: ‘You cannot do this. It is not allowed.’ Without action from the police and the army, it will be chaos, complete anarchy.”
The Coptic Catholic bishop paid tribute to one of the victims, 60-year-old Catholic grandfather Naashaat Rateeb, describing him as “the right-hand man” of the local Coptic Catholic priest.
Nearly 200 people were arrested after the riots and the military increased security around churches in the Cairo area.
The woman whose alleged conversion triggered the riot, an Orthodox priest’s wife, later appeared on television and denied the rumour, defending her Christian faith.
But Bishop Aziz said that restoring law and order was not enough.
He said: “We cannot make peace and reconciliation without first bringing people to justice. Otherwise, the reconciliation is just theatre and the problems will remain.”
A spokesman for Egypt’s small Catholic community has said that Islamic fundamentalists could take over the country if the new regime collapsed. Fr Rafic Greich, press officer for the Egyptian Catholic hierarchy, told AsiaNews that the situation for all Christians is “very critical”, and that they faced an uncertain future.
The violence will increase concerns that the Arab spring will lead to greater sectarian violence across the Middle East and more power for Islamists.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Barnabas Fund, said: “Far from delivering a secular country, postrevolution Egypt is becoming increasingly characterised by an Islamist agenda, with Christians coming under growing attack.” Editorial Comment: Page 13
Thousands see Pope take trip on a gondola
BY DAVID V BARRETT
THOUSANDS thronged to see Pope Benedict XVI riding in a gondola through the canals of Venice last weekend.
The Pope travelled in the Dogaressa, a formal gondola fit for the Doge, piloted by four gondoliers dressed in white with yellow sashes, the papal colours.
Arriving at the dock of St Mark’s Square the Pope was greeted by the city’s mayor before addressing the crowds.
He spoke of Venice as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and praised the “openness that has always characterised Venice, a crossroads of peoples and of communities of every provenance, culture, language, and religion”.
The Pope said: “Venice is called to assume important responsibilities in promoting a culture of welcome and sharing, capable of building bridges of dialogue between peoples.” Report: Page 4 Editorial Comment: Page 13
Pope Benedict XVI enjoys a ride in a gondola during his two-day tour of Venice and Aquileia in which he highlighted the rich Christian heritage of northeast Italy AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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Bishops discuss their long-term priorities at meeting in Leeds BY MARK GREAVES
THE BISHOPS’ conference of England and Wales was expected to discuss its most basic priorities this week at a meeting that may lead to a shake-up of Eccleston Square, its administrative headquarters in central London.
A source close to the conference said the bishops would seek to map out aims for the next five to 10 years and that resources at the secretariat may be reorganised.
It is understood that the bishops will consider what the fundamental purpose of the conference, which was established in the 1980s, should be.
The meeting at Hinsley Hall in Leeds was for the first time attended by Mgr Keith Newton, head of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The first married member of the bishops’ conference, he spoke about the progress of the ordinariate.
Other items on the agenda were the new translation of the Roman Missal, which will be introduced into parishes in
September, and the campaign to add religious education to the English Baccalaureate.
Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the new Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, also addressed the bishops for the first time. He focused on the urgent task of evangelising a highly secularised society. He also thanked Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster for his welcome and for showing “a kind British hospitality” by meeting him upon arrival at Heathrow airport.
Pope Benedict XVI, he said, was grateful for the bishops’ hospitality last September.
The nuncio also mentioned the new Mass translation, saying it was a “great opportunity to look once again, along with our priests and people, at the liturgy and to grow in our understanding”.
He added: “It is also a time for sensitivity towards those persons who are perhaps less enthusiastic about this, because we, as well as the faithful, do not always find change easy.”
Pilgrim takes taxi across the Channel BY ED WEST
AN 83-YEAR-OLD retired barrister has made a 1,000-mile round pilgrimage to the birthplace of St Joan of Arc – in the back of a taxi.
Christopher McOustra, from Seaford in East Sussex, finished his 30th pilgrimage in 30 years to Domrémy in unusual style. The former national gold medal ballroom and Latin American dancer made the trip to honour St Joan and St Thomas More.
Mr McOustra said: “In the past I’ve made the trip by train, by coach and by train and coach. This time I thought, why not by taxi?”
A reader at St Thomas More church, Mr McOustra cofounded the Association of St Joan of Arc and St Thomas More in 1982.
Archbishop-elect is ready to learn Welsh BY STAFF REPORTER
ARCHBISHOP-elect George Stack has said that he would be prepared to learn Welsh if it were necessary.
The newly appointed Archbishop of Cardiff, a Londoner and Westminster auxiliary bishop, told BBC Wales that he was “open to whatever is the most effective way of using my time and energy in the service of the Church and the people of Cardiff and of Wales” and that calls for him to learn Welsh represented a legitimate request.
“I will be prepared to do anything I can to meet their expectations and demands,” he said. “I would need to get to Cardiff to assess the situation and make time available before making any commitments though.”
The Queen in Ireland Mary Kenny on a momentous visit PAGE 8
Fr Tim Gardner OP Rerum Novarum is still inspiring PAGE 7
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