Ecumenical and interfaith leaders around the world have condemned the Jan. 1 terrorist bombing that killed at least 20 and injured scores at a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt.
“We are pained to see the New Year begin with such blind hatred, bigotry, and wanton disregard for human life,” said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA, New York) President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Every human being is created in the divine image. The targeting of any people because of their faith is an attack on all people of faith and indeed all humanity. Coptic Christians have had a peaceful home in Egypt for centuries. Their pain is our pain.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit are among international ecumenical and interfaith leaders who have condemned the suicide bomb attack.
Williams said the attack on Christians in Alexandria is “yet another dreadful reminder” of the pressure Christian minorities are under in the Middle East.
“The Coptic community and other Christian groups in Egypt can be sure of our deep sorrow at this terrible event and our continuing prayers and support for them,” he said. “We know the long and honorable history of co-existence of Christians and Muslims in Egypt and are confident that the overwhelming majority of Egyptian people will join in condemning this and similar acts.”
The terrorist attack took place at Saints Church in Alexandria at the conclusion of the celebration of a New Year’s midnight mass.
Tveit expressed “profound sorrow” on hearing of the attack and offered condolences and prayers for the families of the victims, for the wounded and for all the people of Egypt.
Tveit said the Jan. 1 bombing was a reminder of other tragedies in the region, including an attack on Coptic worshippers in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, on Jan. 7, 2010, and the assault on the Church of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Nejat) in Baghdad, Iraq, on Oct. 31, 2010.
He appealed to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, to religious leaders and to governments across the region “to act swiftly and boldly to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths, to ensure security in the face of violence and to guarantee justice for all people.”
Meanwhile, Egyptian Christians on Jan. 2 protested against the government’s failure to protect them, according to reports.
On behalf of his Diocese of Long Island, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano expressed his condolences to the Coptic community in New York.
“I offered Bishop David [of the Coptic Archdiocese of North America] heartfelt assurances of our solidarity with his people in these difficult days of loss and uncertainty,” said Provenzano in a Jan. 3 statement e-mailed to ENS. “We are bonded by our common faith in Jesus Christ. Though the New Year has opened with such grief for the Coptic church, together we have good reason to hope and to pray that the Prince of Peace will bring reconciliation and peace there at Alexandria and throughout the Middle East. We are committed to constant prayer to that end.”
In the U.K., the Rev. Nadim Nassar, a Syrian-born Anglican priest and director of the Awareness Foundation, said: “It grieves us ... to see the tragedy of this attack on Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, a place where Muslims and Christians have lived together for years. We pledge our prayers and concerns to all who are persecuted or live in fear for proclaiming their faith … Christians, Jews and Muslims must unite in condemnation of such killing and act together to pursue peace with justice for all.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada also joined with leaders of other churches and faith traditions in deploring “this and similar acts of violence” and called for “religious tolerance and for preservation of the freedom to worship in accord with traditions cherished by the faithful in God.”
Leaders of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and of Muslim and Jewish organizations also condemned the attacks, according to a Jan. 3 NCC release.
“The perpetrators of this outrage are apparently so blinded by hatred that they have lost touch with the tenets of any known faith,” said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. “It is simply agonizing to think that many around the world will mistake this horror as the attack of one religious community on another. Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world are united by their outrage and condemnation of this soul-less act.
“This is not a struggle between religions but between those who value the life of every neighbor and those who clearly do not,” Kinnamon said.
In a message to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Kinnamon said “attacks on Christians anywhere in the world are attacks on Christians everywhere. We know you share the pain we feel at this evil attack on our sisters and brothers in Alexandria. We hope you will express to President Mubarak and other government officials in Egypt that Christians and persons of faith in the United States look to them to protect Christians and other minorities in Egypt. We look to them to find the persons responsible for planning this attack, and bring them to justice.”
Kinnamon sent a message of support and solidarity to Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii and a member of the NCC’s governing board. “I am sick at heart for the loss of life outside the church in Alexandria,” Kinnamon said. “Please know that my prayers are with the whole Coptic Orthodox community.”
President Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America issued a statement, saying, “It is a sad day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths. ISNA asks Muslim community members and organizations in Egypt and Nigeria to lend support to the families who lost loved ones during these attacks and urges Muslim Americans to join them in prayer for God to ease the suffering of all those affected by this terrible tragedy.”
At least 38 people died in Christmas Eve attacks across Nigeria, including the six killed at churches in the country’s north by suspected members of a radical Muslim sect. In central Nigeria, 32 died in a series of bomb blasts in the worst violence to hit the region in months.
Magid added: “These bombings are absolutely reprehensible. ISNA condemns any and all acts of violence against innocent civilians. The attacks in Egypt and Nigeria are unacceptable and ISNA urges the Egyptian and Nigerian governments to take all measures to prosecute the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes swiftly and to the fullest measure. We applaud President Obama’s commitment to lend support from the United States to prosecute these individuals and bring peace to innocent civilians.”
ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour said ISNA and the American Muslim community recognize that these acts of violence requires us to double our efforts in promoting religious harmony and the right of people to worship free from fear and violence everywhere in the world. “The small faction of fanatics that wish to ignite religious violence and strife across the world must not be allowed to succeed,” he said.