Christmas was both a joyful and solemn occasion for Coptic Christians in Egypt. While normally a highlight in the religious calendar, this time the celebrations were tempered by the remembrance of those lost to sectarian violence in the past year and the ever present threat of terror attacks on churches.
Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, lead the Christmas midnight mass at Al-Abasseya Cathedral in Cairo while surrounded by security officials, including bodyguards inside the church. The overpowering security forces ensured no violence took place, but served as a stark contrast to celebration of the birth of Jesus, who Christians believe grew up to bring a message of hope, love and sacrifice.
In other parts of Egypt, like in the South, many attended mass in churches that still show traces of damage caused by fire and looters. The scent of candles could not fully cover the arid smell of burned beams and the black smudges on the walls and empty pedestals made for a sobering environment for the celebrations this year.
Fear of religious persecution and targeted sectarian violence has sadly become an intrinsic part of life for many of the Christians in Egypt, especially in the South of the country.
Interim President Adly Mansour met with Pope Tawadros II last Sunday to wish him Merry Christmas in a spirit of solidarity. We hope that in 2014 peace and understanding will take the place of violence and in this spirit we wish everyone a Merry Christmas.