Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut has called on Christian believers throughout the world to pray for the victims and families of the victims of the suicide bomb attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday yesterday (9 April), which claimed the lives of at least 44 people and have left a further 120 or more wounded. He added that he himself has received numerous messages from all over the world, following the attacks, promising prayers and sympathy for him and for all the Christians of Egypt. "Prayer is the most important thing we can ask for at this time", he told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
(Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, Upper Egypt © Aid to the Church in Need)
Essentially, it had not been altogether unexpected that there would be further attacks, he added. The attack in December 2016 on the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Cairo, in which nearly 30 people were killed, had been widely seen as a harbinger of things to come. "Our sense of security was not very strong", Bishop Kyrillos explained. Nonetheless everybody had still been "surprised" by the attacks on Palm Sunday, since it was never possible to predict when and where such attacks would occur.
The bishop emphasised that both on the part of the state and on the part of the Church there is the intention to strengthen collaboration in order to be able to better protect the Christian churches. "I was visited by a security official who asked me what we need now. He made the suggestion that we could train young people and adults, so that all resources could be pooled in order to increase security. Here in Assiut there are 550 Christian churches. Thank God, nothing has happened here so far, but we are too little prepared for such events", Bishop William acknowledged.
Asked about the danger of an exodus of Christians like that in Iraq or in Syria, Bishop Kyrillos expressed the conviction that these attacks would not create any large-scale exodus of Christians as a consequence. "In Egypt the people feel a close bond with their country and all of them see themselves as Egyptians – whether they are Christians or Muslims. There is a stronger sense of solidarity among the population here than elsewhere", he added. However, he believes that the intention of the terrorists is to destroy this solidarity.
Asked about the planned visit of Pope Francis to Egypt, scheduled for 28th and 29th of April, Bishop William described this as "more important now than ever". He is convinced that the trip will not be called off, since the Pope has already "shown the courage, precisely in such situations, to come and strengthen the people". He is confident that the Pope will send out a clear message of peace.
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