By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
In the midst of the political turmoil in Egypt, the fact that Egyptian Christians are being blamed for the troubles and made the scapegoats by extremist supporters of deposed President Morsi has been lost to many. The data concerning attacks on Christian Churches and individual Christians indicate the fear that permeates the Christian community in Egypt.
Last week the Asia News reported these incidents of attacks on institutions and individuals:
• 14 Catholic churches and convents
• 35 Orthodox and evangelical churches
• 9 other Christian institutions
• 58 Christian homes
• 85 Christian-owned shops
• 16 Christian-owned pharmacies
• 3 Christian-owned hotels in Upper Egypt
• 75 buses and cars with Christian occupants
Included in the reports are seven dead, 17 kidnapped and hundreds injured. In the absence of protection by the authorities, Egyptian Christians and many of their Muslim neighbors have taken to guarding the Churches.
Extremist violence against Christians in the Middle East is not new. Recall the attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral of Baghdad in 2010 in which dozens of people were killed and injured, among them two priests and a group of faithful gathered for Sunday Mass. There was another attack on Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, on January 1, 2011. Twenty -three people died as a result of that incident and 97 more were injured.
Eastern Christianity is little known to most Americans and is sometimes confusing. Paulist Father Ronald G. Robertson offers the following explanation of the four distinct Eastern Christian communions: (1) the Assyrian Church of the East, which is not in communion with any other church; (2) the six Oriental Orthodox churches, which, even if each one is independent, are in full communion with one another; (3) the Orthodox Church, which is a communion of national or regional churches, all of which recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as a point of unity enjoying certain rights and privileges; and (4) the Eastern Catholic churches, all of which are in communion with the Church of Rome and its bishop. (Eastern Christian Churches)
Christianity was born in the Middle East and until the 14th Century had a powerful presence throughout Asia. It became Eurocentric by default as Asian Christianity was all but extinguished by the dominance of Islam. Eastern Christian Churches today, other than the Orthodox, are but remnants of a golden age.
In June, Pope Francis spoke about his concern for Eastern Christians noting that “So many brothers and sisters live in a situation of insecurity and seemingly interminable violence which does not spare the innocent and most helpless.” He renewed his call to “the leaders of nations and of international organizations, to believers of every religion, and to women and men of good will to put an end to all suffering, to all violence, to all religious, cultural and social discrimination.”
We share the pain with our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters, as we share their suffering, for as St. Paul wrote of the Body of Christ, “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (Cor 12:26)