Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
The Church worldwide is mourning the Palm Sunday massacre of Coptic Orthodox Christians, killed by ISIS suicide bombers for their faith in Jesus Christ, as they worshipped at two churches in Tanta and Alexandria.
Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, mourned the “yet another targeted attack” upon Egypt’s Christians “during what was meant to be a joyous day of families celebrating Palm Sunday.”
Almost 49 Christians, including many parents with children, were killed in the blasts. ISIS, which is fighting Egypt’s forces in the Sinai region, has taken credit. At St. George’s Church in Tanta, at least 27 Christians were killed and 78 people injured, according to The New York Times, when a suicide bomber slipped past security at the front door of the church and blew himself up. Six deacons clad in white robes were also slain as they sang sacred hymns.
The second attack took place at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, where Pope Tawadros II, the patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, may have been ISIS’s prime intended target as he had been celebrating the liturgy. Egypt’s police intercepted the bomber at the church gate, whereupon he blew himself up. Four police officers and 18 civilians lost their lives.
In his statement on Palm Sunday, Bishop Angaelos said the Church in Egypt suffers with “our sisters and brothers” who have recently experienced loss from terrorism in London, Stockholm, and those who “continue to suffer on a daily basis across the Middle East.”
Bishop Angaelos condemned “the senseless and heartless brutality that can lead a person or people to indiscriminately take innocent lives, especially at the most vulnerable hour of prayer.”
He called for prayer for Pope Tawadros II, Egypt’s Coptic clergy, the Coptic Orthodox faithful “who continue to be resilient in the face of ongoing and escalating attacks, and who resist the urge to react vengefully or reciprocally,” and for the families, colleagues, and friends of the security services personnel that gave their lives in an attempt to foil the bomber.
“As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, we now also mark the entry of those who have passed today into the heavenly Jerusalem,” Bishop Angaelos said. “As we continue into the Holy Week of our Saviour, we share in the pain and heartbreak of their families and of all those affected by today’s incidents. As we celebrate the Feast of the glorious Resurrection at the end of this week, we are reminded that our life here on earth is a journey often filled with pain, at the end of which is a promised glorious and eternal life void of such suffering and evil.”
In a previous interview with the Register, Bishop Angaelos had called upon Christians worldwide to honor the “Christlike example” of the Coptic Orthodox, and pray for Egypt’s Christians, pray for the government, and pray the perpetrators may experience a conversion no less powerful than St. Paul, who went from the early Church’s most dedicated destroyer to its most dedicated evangelist.
Pope Francis extended his “deep condolences” to Pope Tawadros II, and expressed his closeness with the Coptic Church and the Egyptian people in the aftermath of the massacre. He also prayed, “May the Lord convert the hearts of the people who are sowing terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make and traffic weapons.”
U.S. Catholic bishops have issued statements calling upon the U.S. Church to pray for the Coptic Church, for Egypt’s government and people, and for the conversion of the terrorists.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed the U.S. Church’s “deepest sadness” and solidarity with the suffering Church in Egypt.
“The Prince of Peace assures us that the darkness of terror cannot withstand the Easter light of Resurrection. We entrust all those who suffer and who have perished into the arms of the crucified and Risen Christ,” he said.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., asked the faithful during Holy Week to remember to pray for Christians suffering persecution and martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ in Egypt and around the world.
“The Church is the Body of Christ present in our world today,” he said. “That body continues to be crucified in parts of our world.”
“But, even in the face of the frustration of not being able to do much, there is one powerful thing we can do, and that is pray — pray and unite our hearts with our brothers and sisters who simply are being persecuted and dying for something you and I just did so freely today, profess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered three days of national mourning in Egypt for the Christians massacred on Palm Sunday, and is expected to issue a three month state of emergency.
ISIS’s latest attacks on Egypt’s Christians occurred less than three weeks before Pope Francis’s April 28-29 visit to Egypt, and doubtless were intended to send a message to the Vatican.
But the Register’s Edward Pentin reports the Holy Father remains undeterred to visit Egypt and meet with grand imam Ahmed el-Tayeb of Al-Ahzar University and Pope Tawadros II, as part of his mission of peace.
In lieu of comments, please offer prayers to St. Mark and St. Paul for the Church in Egypt, for the people and government of Egypt, and for the conversion of the Church’s persecutors.