EGYPT: Sombre Easter celebrations following Palm Sunday bombings

st-marks-alexandria-easterChurches throughout Egypt cancelled their traditional Easter Sunday celebrations in the wake of the bomb attacks on two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, which resulted in the death of 47 people and injuries to over 120 people. Instead, there was a focus on remembering the victims of the attacks.

The decision was taken by the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros, “in respect for the recent events and in compassion with the families of the martyrs and the injured”. Coptic churches throughout Egypt held services on Easter eve, while on Easter Sunday, churches were opened “to give opportunity for Egyptians to visit and extend their condolences to the Church.”

Fathy Anwar, a Christian from Cairo, said: “We don’t feel any joy this Easter, all of us are very sad about what happened to our brothers and sisters in Tanta and Alexandria. We pray for the families of all those martyred in these two church bombings, that God comforts all of them.”

st-georges-tanta-easterCeremonies at Coptic churches had a heavy security presence, as security barriers with a 400 metre cordon were erected around churches and bomb squads were deployed. Christians flocked to churches including St George’s in Tanta (scene of the first attack on Palm Sunday) which was crowded on Easter eve (see picture, which was shared on Twitter with the hashtags #WeAreNotScared and #ProudToBeCoptic).

Mourad Hanna, who lives in Tanta, said: “I feel very sad in my heart and feel the pain in the hearts of the families of the martyrs. I thank God for giving them peace and comfort through the hope of the Resurrection.”

A large congregation also gathered at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria (scene of the second bomb attack) where deacons carried pictures of seven of the victims of the attack.

Extensive repair work was carried out on both to allow them to be used at Easter. A senior Armed Forces official at St Mark’s Cathedral stated that the reconstruction work was carried out under the full supervision of the army, which is covering all expenses namely the cost of repairing the main gate, security office, library and kindergarten.

pope-tawadros-meets-victimsOn Easter Sunday, Pope Tawadros travelled to Tanta to visit the injured and the families of those killed at St George’s Church. He later went to Alexandria, where he offered condolences and words of comfort to the injured and bereaved from the attack on St Mark’s Cathedral. He also visited some of the injured police officers in hospital in Alexandria.

Services held in hospitals

coptic-service-in-hospital-horizMeanwhile, services were held at two military hospitals in Cairo where many of the injured victims of the attacks are being treated. The hospitals asked the Coptic Church  to organise the services, which are believed to be the first ever held in a hospital in Egypt (which has strict controls on buildings where Christians may worship).  A hall at each hospital was prepared to host the service. The injured, many of whom are deacons, and their families all participated in the Resurrection hymns, play, and procession.

The Egyptian government announced on Easter Sunday that the authorities had arrested 13 suspected “terrorists” who allegedly planned to attack Christians and public institutions. They belonged to cells preparing attacks against government and Christian institutions and police in four northern provinces, including Alexandria, a ministry statement said.

(Egypt Independent, Middle East Eye, Watani, World Watch Monitor)