COPTS in Egypt are approaching Orthodox Easter tomorrow night with excitement and sorrow, as they prepare to mark the first anniversary of the twin suicide bombings that killed 48.
Christians and Muslims died, and more than 120 people were injured, when two suicide bombers targeted St Mark’s Cathedral, Alexandria, and Mar Girgis, also known as St George’s, in Tanta, north of Cairo, during services on Palm Sunday, 9 April, last year (News, 13 April 2017, 21 April 2017).
Fr Kyrillos Fathy of St Mark’s Cathedral, seat of the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, said that he feared that his cathedral would be targeted again. “Why not?” he said.
He had been driving away from the cathedral after the liturgy, at which Pope Tawadros was presiding, when the bomber detonated his explosives outside the gates that he had been about to drive through.
Of the 18 who died in Alexandria, eight were Copts who had been outside the cathedral, and ten were Muslim; of these, six were passers-by and four were police officers. More Muslims than Christians were killed in the attack, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility. The youngest victim was a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, Lucinda Christian. The eighth victim, Kareem Ghattas, aged 43, died from his injuries nine days after the attack.
Speaking through a translator provided by the regional Christian broadcaster SAT-7, Fr Fathy said that some of the wounded were still receiving treatment for their injuries.
In response to the various terrorist attacks carried out against Copts, Egypt’s Interior Ministry instructed local police to guard churches and install metal detectors. Richer churches have also invested in CCTV cameras.
There was relief among Copts early this week after this year’s Palm Sunday celebrations took place without attack. Palm Sunday attracts many Copts who do not attend church weekly and, together with Easter, is a bigger celebration than Christmas. Worshippers buy crowns, hearts, and plaited crosses woven from palm leaves to take to the liturgy, and families may celebrate with a special meal afterwards.
Asked how he expected to navigate the sorrows and joys of Good Friday and Easter, Fr Fathy replied: “With prayer. We have nothing else but the resort to prayer.”
A memorial service, at the Monastery of St Mina, south-west of Alexandria, next Saturday, will be attended by relatives of Copts killed in last year’s attack in Alexandria, as well as those killed in a 2011 church bombing, who are buried there. Prayers will be said for them and for those who survived the attacks.
The widow of Mr Ghattas, Mary Edwar, said that she often felt a lot of anger, but she said of her late husband: “God chose him to be a martyr, which was a great honour.”
Prayers were said for the 30 killed in the Tanta attack during the Palm Sunday Mass, last week.