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A Christmas of mourning

ICC Note:

“Egyptian churches have never seemed to be on top of al-Qaeda’s agenda [until now], but that’s ignited as a result of anti-Christian propaganda in the country,” the Houston Chronicle quotes ICC as saying.

By Kate Shellnutt

1/6/2011 Egypt (Houston Chronicle) – Coptic Orthodox congregations in Houston have joined churches worldwide in canceling today’s Christmas services as a way to mourn the victims of a suicide bombing at a church in Egypt last week and to avoid further violence by anti-Christian terrorists.

In the U.S., where about 200 Coptic Orthodox congregations go relatively unknown, Egyptian-American Copts remain scared and brokenhearted on a holiday so central to their Christian faith.

The New Year’s Day bombing was the worst in the country in decades, and an al-Qaeda affiliated website threatened more, encouraging attacks against Coptic churches during Christmas, which on their Alexandrian calendar falls about two weeks later than the traditional Dec. 25 holiday.

“This is a very frightening and ugly persecution,” said the Rev. Younan Labib, a priest at St. Mary & Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in northwest Houston. “We are disappointed in Egypt and the security. At this point, we have nobody to turn to but God himself.”

Shumukh-al-Islam, the Arabic website thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, had listed the names, pictures, addresses and phone numbers of Coptic Christians in the Middle East, Europe and Canada, including the site of the bombing in Egypt’s capital that killed 21 and injured nearly 100 more, according to the Associated Press. The threats have been enough to scare worshippers away.

“It is sad, but it will discourage people,” said Labib. “They knew people in Alexandria.”

Though Egyptian Copts, who make up just 10 percent of the Muslim-majority nation, say their persecution is nothing new, things seem to be getting worse for Christians there and across the Middle East.

“Egyptian churches have never seemed to be on top of al-Qaeda’s agenda, but that’s reignited as a result of anti-Christian propaganda in the country,” said Aidan Clay, who works in Egypt and the Middle East with the human rights group International Christian Concern.

Rumors thought to have prompted the recent attacks allege that the Coptic Church has held members against their will for trying to convert to Islam. Al-Qaeda has also threatened Christians across the spectrum, including Roman Catholics and underground Protestant churches in the region, Clay said.

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