On Sunday morning a bomb ripped through the Palm Sunday Communion Service at St George’s in Tanta in Egypt, killing 27 and injuring many more. It was followed shortly afterwards by a suicide bomb detonated outside St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria where Pope Tawadros, the leader of the Coptic Church, had led worship.
A woven palm leaf used in a Palm Sunday procession lies bloodied in a church aisle; bags of shoes and other effects are gathered in plastic bags – monuments to the scores of worshippers whose lives were snatched by two horrendous bomb attacks against Palm Sunday congregations in Egypt (9 April 2017).
The bombers selected one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar in the knowledge that far larger numbers of worshippers – families included – would gather to mark the start of Holy Week. A further reason for the timing might be the imminent visit of Pope Francis to Egypt from 28–29 April.
Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for both bombings and vowed to continue murdering Christians: "Let the crusaders and apostates know that they will pay a huge bill with their son's blood," read an online statement carried by the group's semi-official Amaq news agency.
Why is such a ruthless campaign being conducted now and against Egypt’s Christian community? Although Christians are being targeted, it appears to be part of a wider strategy to destabilise and undermine the Egyptian state. Lower-level attacks against Christians – especially in rural areas which are ineffectively policed – has been an ongoing problem in Egypt. But Christians are now being selected as a soft and easily identifiable target for large-scale attacks.
For the jihadists of ISIS, they are also seen as one group who have no place in their vision of a strictly Islamic society. Typically attacks designed to strike terror have taken place during major religious or national festivals.
"CRUSHED WITH PAIN”
Christian satellite TV broadcaster SAT-7 has its largest production team based in Cairo and has freelance and associate producers based in other cities. During each outbreak of violence against the nation’s Christians, SAT-7 has stood alongside believers with a mixture of programs, offering prayer, interviewing those affected as well as church and society leaders, and seeking to remind believers of God’s presence and greater purposes even in their suffering.
On a SAT-7 ARABIC Facebook page, the channel posted a series of messages including the following:
“Our hearts are crushed with pain because of the horrifying terrorist crimes at St George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta and St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. We lift our eyes to the living God asking for consolation to all the families of the martyrs and healing for all the injured.”
NO ONE CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES
SAT-7 Founder and CEO, Dr Terence Ascott, comments:
“In the midst of grief and, in many cases, immediate anger - it is sometimes hard to find the right words of comfort for those who are injured or have lost dear ones in such a tragedy.
“The truth is that, whether the tragedy is in Tanta, Alexandria, Stockholm, London, Berlin, Nice or Paris… there is nothing that anyone can do to protect themselves or others against the evil actions of anyone who is willing to give their life to indiscriminately take the lives of others. And therein is the problem – in the sick and distorted ideologies that have possessed the minds of some, to the point where the act of killing innocent children and destroying the lives of as many others as possible, can be seen as a service to God."
CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS
Dr Ascott stresses that the ongoing priority for SAT-7 has to be one of changing hearts and minds:
“In the end, winning the battle for people’s minds is the only way to stop such carnage. As a media organisation serving in this very troubled region, may God give us wisdom in what to say; and give our viewers the ears to hear and respond to His Love for all people - yes, even those who, at this moment, may be rejoicing at the successful murder and maiming of yet more of our brothers and sisters in Egypt.”
SAT-7 production crews visited both the Tanta and Alexandria churches on Sunday and spoke with those reeling from the shocking events – just as it did in the wake of the 11 December 2016 bombing in Cairo. Yesterday evening (Monday), SAT-7 were broadcasting a special program giving voice to the grieving and the shocked witnesses of Sunday's events. The program also spoke with representatives of Egypt’s Orthodox, Evangelical, and Catholic Christian communities to express the unity of the Church as it “weeps with those who suffer”.