Religious freedom


Violence against Christians in the Philippines : Difficult dialogue

08.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians


Is Mindanao Another Iraq?

 “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq.” The words are those of Father Sebastiano D’Ambra an Italian missionary of the PIME congregation who has been working for almost 50 years now in the Philippines. He was speaking on the phone to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has a Canadian office in Montreal. 

Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

“The situation is a worrying one,” adds Father Sebastiano, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao. “It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case. Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups.”

He goes on to explain that the attacks were carried out by the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIIF), a paramilitary Islamist terrorist group that emerged in 2008 following a split in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 2011 the government in Manila signed a peace accord with the MILF, with both sides pledging to engage in negotiations to establish a new law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, that would guarantee a special status to the region. “But the agreements with the government have been put on hold because the Filipino authorities attach greater priority to the presidential and legislative elections planned for May 9, 2016. And so radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with Manila, are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances.”

Urged not to celebrate Christmas

Islamic radicalism has a long history on Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group was widely active, and was responsible for the murder of the PIME missionary, Father Salvatore Carzedda in 1992. The radicalization continued with the proliferation of Islamist movements of a Wahabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia, while for the past 10 years or so there has been a powerful presence of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamist group that began in Indonesia. “In the last three years the so-called Islamic State has gained a growing number of supporters in Mindanao. ISIS is present here too, albeit not in such an extreme form as in the Middle East.” Father Sebastiano also points to the fact that many Islamic leaders on this island, which has a strong Muslim presence, have urged their own people not to celebrate Christmas together with the Christians, although this is an ancient and deeply rooted custom in the Philippines.

Zamboanga is quite far from the place where the Christmas attacks occurred, and the news went almost unreported by the media, because the government is attempting to play it down in view of the forthcoming elections. Nonetheless, in the local Christian communities the fears are growing, above all because they still retain a vivid memory of the attack carried out by the MILF in 2013 which destroyed half of the town, left numerous people dead and more than 10,000 homes in flames. “Since then the Christians have been extremely cautious in regard to the Muslims, while the Muslims themselves complain of a local government by the majority Christian community (approximately 70%) that does not reflect the growth of their own community.

Convinced that dialogue is possible

Father Sebastiano is the founder of the Silsilah movement which has been attempting since 1984 to promote interreligious dialogue and which has also involved a section of the local Muslim community.

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

“The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time. Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged. We need to have more courage and more faith. It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy. Just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year.”

*Main image: Extract of Journey to Emmaus, Icons presenting the history, vision, mission and call of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.


By Marta Petrosillo, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org





ACN Press Release – Father Jacques Mourad

16.12.2015 in ACN Intl, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Persecution of Christians, Prayer, Press Release, Religious freedom



“Masked men came into the monastery of Mar Elian and abducted me along with a volunteer helper of ours, Boutros. They forced us into a car and then left us in the middle of the desert for four days, blindfolded and chained up. Then they took us to Raqqa, the capital of ISIS.” 


Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Father Mourad during the press conference in Rome


So begins the account of Father Jacques Mourad, the Syrian priest kidnapped by IS on May 21 this year and finally freed on October 10. In a press conference organized by pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Mourad, a member of the religious community of Deir Mar Musa, founded by Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, was speaking for the first time about his long months of imprisonment.

Kept in a small bathroom

“In Raqqa they kept us shut up in a small bathroom,” Father Mourad continues. “They deliberately chose this place in order to humiliate us – but then our mission is to be humble, even in the face of violence.” In that small bathroom this priest and religious spent a full 84 days. “The jihadists frequently insulted us, but the most difficult moment was when they tried to intimidate us – ‘Either you convert to Islam or we cut off your head’.”

“In Raqqa they kept us shut up in a small bathroom”

During the long months of imprisonment Father Jacques found comfort in reciting the Rosary and in the prayer of abandonment of Charles de Foucauld, “a victim of violence who devoted his entire life to Christian-Islamic dialogue.” Father Mourad himself has likewise made interreligious dialogue the very heart of his mission, having for over 15 years supported all the families in Qaryatayn, without any distinction as to their faith. He believes that this work on behalf of religious dialogue may be what persuaded IS to abduct him. “Though undoubtedly the good I was able to do for the population, thanks also to the help of ACN, was a determining factor in my liberation. I am certain that this was one of the reasons that prevented IS from killing me.”

Muslim/Christian dialogue, a dangerous commitment

On August 11 Baghdadi men took hold of Father Mourad again and drove him off in a car. “I thought my last hour had come,” he recalls. “We travelled for over four hours, then the car stopped.” After getting out of the car, Father Jacques recognized a young man from his own parish. Behind him were the 250 Christians abducted by IS a few days earlier from Qaryatayn. They were now close to Palmyra and from there Father Jacques and his faithful would not return home until  September 1. “We almost went back to a normal life, but we were absolutely forbidden from leaving the city.”

During the 40 days he spent in Qaryatayn, he was able to celebrate Mass in underground places, “both in order not to be seen while we were praying and in order to take shelter from the bombings”. Then on October 10, with the help of a Muslim man and a Syrian Orthodox priest, Father Jacques succeeded in escaping. “Life in Qaryatayn had become impossible – with no food, no water, no electricity.

Little by little all the Christians left the town. There are just 11 people left there, still in the hands of IS, while eight of the Christians have been killed by the jihadists.”

At the end of the press conference, Father Jacques wanted to express his thanks to ACN,” who for years now have been supporting the community of Deir Mar Musa,” and also to recall the plight of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio. “Let us pray that the miracle of his liberation may yet happen,” he said.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, ACN has given over 12.5 million CAN in humanitarian and pastoral aid for the people of the country.


Marta Petrosillo, ACN International : press@acn-intl.org,     Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada: com@acn-aed-ca.org


We would like to share with you a letter from Father Jacques Mourad to ACN Head of the Middle East Department received last October:

Read a  letter from Father Jacques Mourad of Syria following his hostage experience

Journey with ACN: Cuba

06.11.2015 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Construction, Cuba, Journey with ACN, Religious freedom

 JOURNEY WITH ACN is our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our website and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world and introducing you to various projects we have helped to bring into being together with our partners and ACN benefactors.

This week:  Cuba

 The Church is inventive and full of life, but impoverished

Manuel Hernandez, diacre de la paroisse Saint-Jean-Paul II. - Manuel Hernandez, Deacon of Saint-John- Paul II parish.

– Manuel Hernandez, Deacon of Saint-John- Paul II parish.

In Guiteras, the cityscape is dominated by grey prefabricated buildings that are crumbling badly on account of the moist tropical temperatures. Approximately 32,000 people live in the suburb on the outskirts of the capital of Cuba, Havana. It is a place like many others on the Caribbean island. And yet, Guiteras is special all the same. This is where a new church is currently being built with the support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – in Cuba anything but an everyday occurrence.


In a place where no old churches date back to the time before the revolution, Catholics generally have to meet in private homes. Up until now, building permits for new church buildings have been approved in only a few cases. One of these privileged locations is Guiteras. Cuba’s head of state Raul Castro made the property available to the church after Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in 2012.

“Up until now, we have been praying and meeting in the courtyard of a private home. We are looking forward to moving into our new church,” Deacon Manuel Hernandez of the Catholic parish in Guiteras said. However, it will be a while before everything is ready. “We now have the building permit. However, there hasn’t been a lot of progress. We don’t have enough materials and building equipment. A bulldozer was supposed to excavate the foundation. It broke down after one hour. Now we simply have to wait.”

…”Today, hundreds of people come to our services. All Cubans believe. Anyone who claims anything else is lying.”

Project trip of Oliver MaksanA visit that changed everything

Saint Pope John Paul II will be the patron saint of the church. He was the first pope to visit the Caribbean island in 1998. The church in Cuba looks back on his visit as a breakthrough. After years of seclusion, it was finally able to come out into the open. The Catholic parish of Guiteras will not retreat back behind the walls of the new church in the future. “We have lay missionaries who go to homes. In addition, we pass out food to elderly people in need. We want to intensify these efforts once the new church is completed. We also want to build a pastoral centre and a sports field here. With these, we want to appeal to young people in particular.”

This pleases the old members of the parish. Amalia, for example, an elderly lady who is one of the founders of the Catholic parish in Guiteras. Together with other pious ladies, she prays the rosary in the temporary chapel on the property of the church building site.

Sur la droite Amalia Miguel et Dina, fondatrices de la paroisse. - On the right: Amalia Miguel and Dina praying in the tentative chapel. They are among the founders of the parish.

“When the new church is finally standing, it will definitely draw more people. It is going to be wonderful. Twenty-one years ago we began meeting in private homes to read the Gospels and to pray. It wasn’t always easy. People were even not allowed to hang up a cross or a picture of the Virgin in the flats provided by the state.” However, she still believes that the message of the Gospels will fall on fertile ground in Cuba. “There used to be only a few. Today, hundreds of people come to our services. All Cubans believe. Anyone who claims anything else is lying.”

Open like St.Paul at the Areopagus in Athens

Professor Rene Zamora Marin is also a pioneer of faith. The doctor used to run an intensive care unit at Havana’s largest hospital. In 1997 he founded the “John Paul II Centre for Bioethics” in the Cuban capital. “The time my employees and I spend at the institute is time we would have devoted to sleep. But the work is worth it,” he said. The centre has 14 employees. “Our work areas naturally include the narrower bioethical issues such as stem cell research or brain death. However, we have since expanded our focus. Furthermore, an ethical problem like abortion cannot be considered in isolation. Abortion is always also a symptom of crisis in the family.” Imparting values in Christian spirit could therefore be the motto of the centre, which is supported by Aid to the Church in Need. Various offers for young people and adults set out to raise awareness of human dignity. “And then of course of the true interaction with each other that arises from this,” Professor Zamora emphasized.

His goal is to influence Cuban society. The history of the country has left its mark on the consciousness of the people. “We are having a crisis of values in Cuba. This is true for the family, but also for society as a whole. For this reason we address all people of good will. In doing so, we do not base our arguments on the catechism of the Catholic church but solely on reason ”, he explains.

”After all, every thinking person can understand the concept of a person and his or her dignity. Reason unites us all. It made it possible for the Apostle Paul to speak about an unknown God on the Areopagus in Athens.”

The magazine published by the institute, but also conventions, classes, discussions and in the meantime a cooperation with the Department of Philosophy of the University of Havana all make it possible to come into contact with those parts of society that do not go to Mass on Sundays. According to Professor Zamora, many people come to the centre to ask philosophical questions, to gather information, to exchange ideas and to expand their horizons. “Our work is highly respected. We have now even been made a member of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba. Our centre was also involved in a bill on brain death. This makes us very grateful.”


Aid to the Chudonaterch in Need has been supporting the Catholic church in Cuba for many years. More than 2.3 million Canadian dollars were approved for pastoral projects on the Caribbean island this and last year alone, including the construction and renovation of churches as well as the training and support of priests and religious. About 60 per cent of the inhabitants of Cuba count as Catholic.

Une partie d'un ancien couvent franciscain, remis récemment à l'Église.Sa rénovation sera un grand défi! - A part of the former Franciscan Convent which was only recently returned to the Church. Its renovation will by a big challenge.

A part of the former Franciscan Convent which was only recently returned to the Church. Its renovation will by a big challenge.


By Oliver Maksan, Adaptation: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada


17.12.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN UK, Pakistan, Prayer, Press Release, Religious freedom


“The Taliban will stop at nothing now”

 Archbishop Coutts warns of increased threat to innocent people – 

Prelate asks schools to hold one-minute silence for Peshawar victims

by John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

UK/Montreal, Wednesday, 17th December 2014 – INNOCENT people in Pakistan – young and old alike – are now at increased risk of terrorist attack, according to the leader of the country’s Catholics, who has called on the government to step up security in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre.

Pakistan-1Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said yesterday’s terrorist incident at the Army Public School was a “revenge attack” against the Pakistan military and that the Taliban “will stop at nothing now” to harm people.

Speaking today (Wednesday, 17th December) from Karachi, Archbishop Joseph Coutts, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the threat to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and other public places had grown and that tighter security was crucial.

“The [security services] should be increasing security in public places.”

In his ACN interview, Archbishop Coutts said: “What happened yesterday was a sign of desperation.  The Taliban are prepared to carry out brutal attacks, killing school children, shooting them in the head. “They will stop at nothing now. The [security services] should be increasing security in public places. We are dealing here with people who have no conscience. It is just blind hatred.”

Stressing that the attack on Peshawar was the Taliban’s response to Pakistan military offences in the Khyber region and North Waziristan, regions close to the Afghan border, Archbishop Coutts said: “The Taliban want to show [the military] that they can hit the [army’s] children and all their families. Their message is: ‘We can get you in your own territory’.”

But the archbishop said that the Peshawar massacre was not a sign of the Taliban’s growing military might.  “I don’t think it was a show of strength. It is more likely to be a last ditch attempt to show what they can do,” he said.

20121011_002In his statement, the archbishop calls on church communities to “celebrate Christmas in a sober manner as a mark of respect for all victim[s] of terror attacks.” The statement goes on: “On the birthday of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, all Christians must pray fervently for peace. “It is the duty of every Christian to be a promoter of peace, reconciliation, harmony and unity … work[ing] together with fellow citizens [so] that Pakistan may be free from the scourge of violence and terrorism.”

In a statement issued today strongly condemning the attack, the prelate calls on Pakistan’s 300 or more Catholic schools and colleges to hold prayers and a one-minute silence to remember the 141 people who died.  Archbishop Coutts appealed to his faithful to pray not only for those killed yesterday but also for other Taliban victims including vaccinators against polio as well as the 127 people killed during the September 2013 attack on All Saints’ Church, Peshawar. He also urged people to pray for brick kiln workers Shama Bibi, 24, and Sajjad Maseeh, 27, the young Christian couple burned to death earlier this month for alleged blasphemy.


A call to “join hands to end this menace of terrorism”

In his ACN interview, Archbishop Coutts called on friends and benefactors to pray for Christians and others suffering violence in Pakistan. “It is very important for us to know that there are others praying for us, wanting to help us, wanting to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in faith. In spite of all our difficulties, we find a lot of strength in the prayers of all those who are concerned for us and I thank everybody who is remembering us, especially at this time of great tragedy and sadness.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice & Peace, an advocacy agency of the Catholic bishops’ conference which supports the victims of persecution, also condemned the Peshawar massacre.


In a message signed by Fr Emmanuel Mani, NCJP director, and Cecil Chaudhry, executive director, the agency stated: “We are running out of demands for human rights and now plead to the governments, all political parties, religious leaders, civil society organizations and the judiciary to set aside all their personal and political differences and join hands to end this menace of terrorism collectively. “The government, both federal and provincial, along with the intelligence agencies should take serious and effective measures to prevent such an atrocity and also demand to increase security and ensure [the] safety of all children and citizens of Pakistan.”

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

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Pakistan is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need, which in this country of 3 million faithful helps Christians escaping persecution, and provides Child’s Bibles, religious buildings and supports Sisters, seminarians and catechists as well as media projects.

PRESS RELEASE : Persecution of religious minorities in conflict régions – A silent war

17.12.2014 in ACN Canada, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

Marcela Szymanski and Mark Riedemann, ACN InternationalACN-20140930-13994

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, AED Canada


Montreakl/Brussels/Königstein, 17 December 2014 – Aid to the Church in Need’s (ACN) Worldwide Religious Freedom Report 2014 was presented on Thursday 11th December at the European Parliament in Brussels. Speaking to an audience of 110 invited MEP’s and NGO representatives, the report’s Chairman of the Editorial Committee, Peter Sefton-Williams, invited the European policy-makers “to call on religious leaders to speak together against religiously inspired violence”.


In addition to presenting the key-note speech for this 2-day seminar hosted by the European People’s Party, ACN supported the event with the participation of four witnesses Bishop Steven Mamza of Nigeria (Yola Diocese), Sister Hanan Yousef of Lebanon, Mrs. Dina Raouf Khalil of Egypt and Dr. Paul Bhatti of Pakistan who each related their own experiences of persecution, or care of those who suffer persecution or discrimination at the hands of others.

MINORITÉS-2Nigeria’s Bishop Mamza, who feeds 60,000 refugees in his diocese and gives shelter to 10,000 in Church buildings as a consequence of the terrorist aggression said, “Boko Haram is only looking for power, they say it is like ancient Islam but even local imams say Islam has never been such a heartless religion”. Pakistan’s Dr. Paul Bhatti added, “The Taliban inspires the hate speech of many imams in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India and the lack of education makes it difficult to protect the young from this kind of fundamentalism”.

No time to loose

The speakers highlighted that religious persecution is generating unprecedented waves of migration and displacement, often affecting the most vulnerable – women and children. Sister Hanan Youssef of the Good Shepherd Sisters working with Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the poor quarters of Beirut, said that in 2014 her small dispensary alone had served 18.000 patients. Illness such as polio long eradicated from Lebanon, have returned with the refugees and that the majority of the 120 new patients she treats everyday have no means with which to pay for the medication having been stripped of every possession in their flight.

Mrs. Dina Raouf Khalil, coordinating the development of 35 schools with 12.000 students in the poorer regions of Upper Egypt, explained that in many ways Egypt had been spared the tragedy presently tearing apart the fabric of societies in neighboring countries. As she explained, although Egypt clearly faces a number of challenges there are small signs of hope such as “a young population that is beginning to renew an educational interest in the arts, which is also indicative of a move away from violence”.

MINORITÉS-3As summarized by the Members of the European Parliament chairing the panels, there is no time to loose to stop the advance of religious extremism and that strong words from governments must be accompanied by actions that support the persecuted minorities worldwide. So too, here in the West, action must be taken to address a growing concern regarding the level of religious illiteracy and the fertile ground this creates for radicalization as reflected by the number of young Europeans and Americans joining the jihadists.

Among the proposals, Father Patrick Daly Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe to the European Union, suggested that public and private education should work to increase the religious literacy of young Europeans: historically accurate and factual information about religion and beliefs and their role in society’s cultural, historical and artistic development. “Churches and religious communities are ready to cooperate in this important task to help people understand the cultural background and the religious environment that surrounds us”. No less, officers in public services and diplomatic and external services should be trained in religious affairs to better understand the social fabric in the areas of their expertise.


Persecuted and Forgotten? – Report 2013: The situation of Christians in many countries has sharply deteriorated.

17.10.2013 in ACN International, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom, Uncategorized


ACN-20131003-01339By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by AG Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal, October 17, 2013 – In many countries the situation of Christians has sharply deteriorated. This is the finding of a report (Persecuted and Forgotten? ) due to be launched at a meeting in the UK Houses of Parliament today by the UK office of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The report examines the situation of Christians in 30 different countries, including Afghanistan, China, Laos, Pakistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. In particular it analyses the situation in a number of majority Islamic countries and in those states whose political systems have a pronounced authoritarian character. The reporting period covers the past two-and-a-half years.

John Pontifex[1]

John Pontifex

John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need UK’s Head of Press and Information, sums up the report as follows: “The principal finding of the report is that in two-thirds of the countries where persecution of Christians is most severe, the problems have become arguably even worse. In fact the Church’s very survival in some parts – notably the Middle East – is now at stake.”

 A Christian exodus of almost biblical proportions 

For Christians, the so-called “Arab spring” has in many cases become what the report calls a “Christian winter.” Although the political upheavals have brought suffering to people of all faith communities, nonetheless it is above all the Christian confessions that have experienced the most open hostility and violence. They have become victims of every kind of political, economic, social and religious conflict – for example the conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. As a result, a great many Christians have been forced to flee. The report describes the exodus as reaching “almost biblical proportions.”

As John Pontifex explains, “From all accounts, the incidents of persecution are now apparently relentless and worsening; churches being burnt, Christians under pressure to convert, mob violence against Christian homes, abduction and rape of Christian girls, anti-Christian propaganda in the media and from Government, discrimination in schools and the workplace… the list goes on. Persecuted and Forgotten? begs deep questions about the international community’s commitment to standing up for religious freedom.”

ACN-20131003-01340 (1)According to the information presented in Persecuted and Forgotten? the influence of fundamentalist Islamist groups has increased markedly in the past two-and-a-half years. They represent possibly the greatest threat to religious freedom in the world today. Their goal is the elimination, or at the very least the subjugation, of Christians. In communist countries too, the efforts to exert control over the Christian population has increased. However, in these countries Christians tend to be persecuted above all on account of their contacts with dissidents and with the West, and not so much on account of their faith alone. In North Korea there is no official recognition of any religious activities, while those that are tolerated are strictly controlled. China continues to insist on asserting its authority over all Christian groups, especially over those not registered with the State.

Egypt – Despite unrest after Mursi’s fall Egyptian religious representatives are hopeful

12.07.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, egypt, Religious freedom

Azhar University in Cairo: “We don’t want an Islamic state”– Coptic-Catholic Patriarch demands right to speed up church construction – Coptic-Orthodox Bishop: “Democracy is more than the rule of the majority”

by Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin

Religious representatives from Egypt speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), expressed the hope for a positive development in the crisis-ridden country following the fall from power of the Muslim Brother Mohamed Mursi.

KyrillosThe Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Asyut in Upper Egypt, Kyrillos William, told “Aid to the Church in Need” on Tuesday that he regretted the many victims claimed on Monday morning in Cairo by the clashes between the army and supporters of the toppled President Mursi. The talk is of more than 50 dead and hundreds of injured. “It’s sad,” the Bishop said.

In the meantime Bishop Kyrillos has expressed his hope that the situation would quieten down. “There will not be a civil war. Who would fight against whom? The people have no reason to do so. I can’t discount the possibility of single acts of violence by the Muslim Brothers, however. But the army and the police are too strong,” the Bishop continued. The appointment of the head of government on Tuesday showed that the situation was slowly beginning to normalize, and the political transition was taking shape. “Life in general is carrying on as usual for most people in Egypt,” the Bishop explained. With regard to the Muslim Brotherhood he said that no-one had been excluded from the political process. “The Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to take part in the national reconciliation.”

Egypt is not Syria

ACN-20130710-00075The head of the Coptic-Catholic Church, Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, had stated previously to ACN on Friday in Cairo that the deposition of the Egyptian President Mursi last week was something between a military coup and a second revolution by the people. “The military had not seized power. Furthermore,the people wanted a change and asked the military to help. Fortunately our army is on the side of the people. Egypt is not Syria,” the Patriarch continued. Mursi had not been able to fulfil the expectations set. “My impression was that he was not prepared for this task. I think one of the main problems was also that Mursi was not really President. He had a President, namely the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other people in this international society. It’s from them that he had received his instructions,” the Patriarch believed.

When asked about his hopes for the new Egyptian constitution Patriarch Ibrahim said: “My hope is for a civil government which guarantees the freedom of every individual.” On the other hand,the Church leader discounted a relationship between state and church based on the French model. “We are a country dominated by religion. The majority are of the Islamic or Coptic-Orthodox faith. This must be properly taken into account.”

Christians: an easy target

Yet the Patriarch made a forceful plea for changes in the approval procedure for Christian church buildings. “I think an application for building a church should be treated like any other construction application. The building regulations must be satisfied. But then that should be an end to it.” To date the State President has had to decide on a permit. It can often take ten years or more for an answer to come.

Overall Patriarch Ibrahim was confident about the future of the country: “If Egyptians just want it then they can overcome the economic and political problems. Since the revolution of 25 January 2011 we have experienced events which would not have been considered possible before. In view of this I’m optimistic.”

ACN-20130710-00076The Coptic-Orthodox Bishop of Qussia in Upper Egypt, Bishop Thomas, defended the army’s toppling of President Mursi.  He emphasized in conversation with ACN on Sunday: “It was not a coup d’état, but a revolution by the people. We are happy that the army has taken over. The Christians suffered under the Muslim Brothers.”

For instance, compared to the times under the former head of state Mubarak prosecutions under the blasphemy laws had increased significantly. “Within one year we have had many cases,” according to the Bishop. Furthermore, many Christians had been abducted by Islamists to extort ransom money from them. Time and again there were violent attacks on Christians and their institutions. There was a lack of protection. Complaints made to the police following incidents with Islamist motives remained fruitless. “On top of all this the Muslim Brothers have given the green light,” Bishop Thomas said. “Now, since they have been removed from power, the Muslim Brothers threaten us directly. We Christians are an easy target for Islamist extremists. The terrorist threats by extremist groups will continue. Our situation will only improve as a whole with the stabilisation of the security situation in Egypt.” Despite the present problems such as attacks on Christians and their institutions, the Bishop showed himself tobe optimistic as far as the future of Christians in Egypt was concerned. “I hope for a change for the better.”

Democracy: more than the rule of the majority

The Bishop described political religion such as the Islamism of the Muslim Brothers, however, as not a solution to Egypt’s problems. Rather it was necessary to develop an awareness that democracy was more than the rule of the majority. “The majority coming to power through elections have a responsibility to protect the rights of all. With this in mind he wished that the new Egyptian constitution would embody the principle of a civil state. “The constitution must express the equality of all Egyptians, Christians as well as Muslims, before the law.”

A representative of Cairo’s Azhar University expressed a similar sentiment to “Aid to the Church in Need”. Mahmoud Azab, adviser to the Grand Sheikh for inter-religious dialogue, said when talking to the Catholic pastoral charity on Sunday in Cairo: “We do not want an Islamic state in Egypt. This is the position of the Azhar University, and one we have propounded on a number of different occasions.” This, Azab continued, was also the principal difference to the Islam of the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists. “We want to have a democratic and modern national and constitutional state in Egypt. Muslims and Christians must have the same rights based on citizenship.”

The representative of the Azhar University, the leading authority of Sunni Islam, stressed at the same time that his institution also did not wish to have a separation of religion and state such as existed, for example, in France. “The French secularism cannot be applied in Egypt.” This would mean, for example, that questions of civil status would have to be regulated for Muslims by sharia and for Christians by the precepts of their Church. But he rejected a fundamentalist interpretation of sharia. Azab also condemned acts of violence perpetrated against Christians. “That is contrary to Islam.” Dialogue and respect would have to be the basis for dealing with the different social groups in Egypt.