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Christians in the Muslim World

Nag Hammadi (Egypt) and the new massacre of the innocents

Never as in these last few days have I felt the closeness of the Church’s embrace through prayer, solidarity and participation in the sufferings of my Coptic brothers attacked and killed by Muslim fundamentalists during the holy night of Christmas.



Such an embrace is a necessary support for me to be able to carry on witnessing the Gospel of love and forgiveness in this land of ours, blessed by the presence of the ancient Patriarchs and Prophets, and a home to the Holy Family persecuted and escaping from Bethlehem.



Unfortunately, our Coptic community is continually attacked and wounded. I remember, in fact, that on Easter night last year, in the village of Hagaza, 25 Km North of Luxor, Islamic fundamentalists killed three Copts, one Catholic and two Orthodox. They were murdered in the street, while were walking to the Coptic Catholic church to attend holy mass



I must recognize that there is an Islamic terrorist plan aimed at transforming the joy of our Christian festivals into days of mourning and sadness.



The seven people killed at Nag-Hammadi were two children, two young people, a lady and an old man. Beside these we must remember the nine wounded, two of whom were seriously injured.



These victims are from the Coptic Orthodox community closely related to Coptic Catholics by family bonds



Both communities, the Coptic one and the Orthodox one, are in fact very close and often mixed marriages are celebrated between young people belonging to either; hence, when one community is attacked the other is also affected.



After the Christmas massacre we all gathered to pray for the dead on January 8th – a very special day in which the Coptic Church, according to her liturgical calendar, remembers the baby martyrs of Bethlehem, the massacre of the innocents ordered by Herod to eliminate baby Jesus, while the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of the martyrdom of St Stephen.



It was impressive to participate in this event: all Christians in Luxor, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant gathered in the Orthodox cathedral to pray for the eternal rest of our martyrs – true martyrs of our times – and to share the grief of their families.



I was there with a great number of priests, nuns, and Catholic faithful. My thoughts in such circumstance, focused on the massacre of Bethlehem’s children: after Jesus’ birth , Mary, Joseph and the Child found refuge and peace in Egypt, while in Bethlehem there was wailing and tears.



Now it is up to us to sacrifice our lives for Jesus and participate in the grief of Bethlehem’s mothers.



During the persecutions of the early centuries of Christianity our ancestors offered their blood and their lives to Christ. The sources say that they were a great number. In fact, the Copts call themselves the martyrs’children and the Coptic Church calls its liturgical calendar “The Martyrs’ Age”: it starts with the first year of the empire of Diocletian, who killed many Christians in Egypt.



Today we have the responsibility to witness to our faith in the Gospel’s love by forgiving others and offering our prayer for their good, so that they may find the true way of peace.



We cannot forget that today we are not the only ones who suffer in the world: in many countries Christians are persecuted and discriminated against: in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Sudan…



This fact calls everyone everywhere in the world to pray incessantly, insistently asking God for the gift of peace.