I write to express my profound sorrow beyond words, and to extend condolences to the families and friends of the 22 martyrs killed and to the over 90 people who were wounded in the bomb attack on Al-Qiddisin (The Saints) church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve.
I also extend my condolences to the whole Coptic people, and the Coptic church and its leaders, including a community of over 100,000 Copts living in Australia. As an Australian Anglican priest, I wish particularly to express my support for Pope Shenouda at this time, and also for Bishop Suriel of the Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, and for Father Tadros, Vicar General of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions. These leaders carry a weighty burden of care for their people, as they prepare to lead them in celebrations of Christmas this Friday, January 7, 2011.
So many have been deeply affected by this shocking atrocity, which targeted peaceful worshipers in a way intended to exact maximum casualties. People came to pray, seeking peace for the new year ahead, and were instead subjected to an inhuman act of cruelty and hatred.
The Alexandria attack is the worst in recent memory of a series of assaults on Copts and their places of worship. Indeed the year of 2010 began with a shooting massacre of Christian worshipers outside Nag Hammadi Cathedral on January 7, the occasion of the Coptic Christmas Eve.
Although this latest attack has been denounced by Egyptian authorities, it has taken place in a climate of growing official discrimination against the Christians of Egypt, including against converts to Christianity.
I deplore the lack of freedom of religion in Egypt, the authorities' apparent unwillingness to protect the indigenous Christian minority and its places of worship, and the lamentable track record of the Egyptian justice system in securing criminal convictions against those who have targeted Christians for attack. I call upon Egypt's leaders to respond to these abuses honestly and with integrity, without making excuses or indulging in denial.
I also deplore the complicity of some Middle Eastern community leaders and media organizations, who have inflamed a climate of incitement against indigenous Christians, one of the worst recent examples being the interview of Mohammad Salim Al-Awwa by Ahmed Mansour on Al-Jazeera TV, which went to air on September 115, 2010. This interview made repeated outrageous and false allegations against the Coptic church and its leaders, which have subsequently even been invoked by Al-Qa'ida in connection with deadly attacks on Christians elsewhere in the Middle East.
The Copts are the direct continuation of the indigenous Christian community in Egypt, founded by St Mark. They have maintained a faithful witness to Apostolic Faith in Christ through two thousand years of trials and persecution. I am confident that this latest attack will not shake their will to maintain this witness in their ancestral land. In the spirit of Matthew 10:42, I call upon Christians throughout the world to offer compassion, practical support and prayers for the Copts, which they sorely need at this most painful of times.