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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Does One Huge New Church in Egypt Make Up for Troubles with 24 Small Ones?

Sisi New Coptic Cathedral
(via Ahram Online)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on January 10, 2018.

Celebrating Christmas with Egyptian Christians for the fourth consecutive year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presented the largest gift under the tree: A new cathedral.

Sisi was the first president in Egypt’s history to even attend a Christmas mass. During last year’s celebration, he promised to build Egypt’s largest church and largest mosque in a yet-to-be-developed new administrative capital.

Three weeks earlier, 27 people had been killed in a suicide bombing in a chapel adjacent the old cathedral and papal residence, St. Mark’s in Cairo.

“Evil, destruction, and killing will never defeat goodness, peace, and love,” Sisi said at this month’s cathedral inauguration. “We are one, and you are our families. No one can ever divide us.”

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II called the new church, named The Nativity of Christ, a “divine arrangement.”

But also…

 

One week prior to the Helwan incident, a church in Atfih, 60 miles south of Cairo, was ransacked—not by terrorists, but by dozens of local Muslims offended by the rumor that a bell would be installed in the unlicensed village church.

In a recent report by EIPR, Egypt witnessed 20 similar sectarian incidents at churches over a 13-month period. Ibrahim said the total is now up to 24.

EIPR’s reporting timeframe began with the issuance of Egypt’s new church building law, meant to eliminate such problems…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

 

 

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Let My People Build

This article was published in the November print edition of Christianity Today.

let-my-people-build
(via Coptic Solidarity)

Long live the crescent and the cross!” shouted Egypt’s parliament in joy. All 39 Christian members joined the two-thirds majority to vote to end a 160-year practice instituted by the Ottomans requiring Christians to get permission from the country’s leader before building churches. The long-awaited reform was promised by the 2014 constitution after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.

The new law shifts authority into the hands of the governor, who must issue a decision within four months of an application and give detailed reasons for refusals. The law also established a process to retroactively license hundreds of churches erected without a presidential permit.

“It is a good step,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, who helped negotiate the draft law with government officials. “If we wanted an agreement to include everything and please everyone, it would have taken 100 years.

“This is the best we can get right now.”

But even as they celebrated, Christians debated if they failed to fully seize a unique opportunity to pursue equal citizenship…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

 

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

The Story of a Village Church

Qufada Skyline

From my recent article at Arab West Report:

A man named ‘lantern’ finds a buried treasure, and with the money builds a church and extends a priesthood. If only all tales of Coptic Orthodox churches were so adventurous. (Some are.)

The village of Qufada, home of the Virgin Mary and St. Abaskhiroun Church, is about a 30-45 minute drive from Maghagha, 160 kilometers south of Cairo, in the governorate of Minya.

The church was built in 1910 by Fanus Abaskhiroun [‘Fanus’ means ‘lantern’ in Arabic]. He was a building contractor of average means, when one day he discovered buried gold on a plot of land he was developing.

Fr. Yu’annis, one of two priests currently serving in the Qufada church, related this fact and the story which follows. He says the tale of the gold is probably 90 percent true. Even today ordinary Egyptians illegally mine for Pharaohnic treasure on restricted archeological sites, so Fanus simply had a hundred year head start.

Throughout Upper Egypt, there are many villages with churches, and many villages without – despite a local Christian population. Fr. Yu’annis, who descends from a priestly heritage stretching thirty generations, described it this way:

… historically the issue of building churches rested with the good will of Christian landowners. Where they feared God and cared for the people, as in the example of Fanus and Qillini Pasha, churches were built. Yet there are several other villages in Maghagha today which do not have a church yet did have wealthy Christian residents.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report, including a description of the last four generations of lineage. Here is Fr. Yu’annis at work, with a few other additional pictures:

Yu'annis in church

Qufada Church

Qufada church sign

The sign reads: Oh Lord, remember your servant Fanus Abaskhiroun and his children and his grandchildren, who have concerned themselves with this holy place in the kingdom of heaven. Amen. 1910 AD.

In front of the sign hangs an ostrich egg.