Why the Persecution of Coptic Christians Impacts All Believers
One of the oldest communities of the faithful is under siege — and the world must act
Worldwide attacks on Christians are at a level not seen since the first centuries of Christianity, as Pope Francis noted recently.
The attacks are so frequent and so deadly — which risks not just “compassion fatigue,” but indifference. A systematic genocide is occurring not just in Iraq and Syria but in Nigeria and in many other countries, which can no longer be denied. The Coptic Christian community of Egypt, which makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population and existed long before Islam reared its conquering head, has suffered more than most — and is now suffering again with the third attack in the last two months.
“Protecting and promoting religious liberty is a foreign-policy priority.”
At least 26 Coptic Christians, including many children, were on their way from Cairo to Minya, to the monastery of St. Samuel to pray. They were harmless pilgrims. The Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for previous attacks, has called the Copts their “favorite prey,” and since the Manchester attack days ago, little children seem to be particular favorites.
Much condemnation has already been expressed, the same words from the politicians after each attack; but there seems to be little outrage and even less action. World leaders do not gather in Cairo to march arm-in-arm, as they did, with a million people in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There are no vigils for the Copts, no minutes of silence — the Copts seem to be very far away and very insignificant.
Persecuted Christians, said a senior figure in the current administration to a source of mine, have “no constituency.” If that cynical fact is true, there is only one group to blame: those who call themselves Christians, both the leadership of the church and the millions who attend divine worship each Sunday.
Most ordinary believers feel powerless to do anything and, in fact, do not know what to do. That can change — and the "constituency" can become very real and very powerful. Just weeks ago, the vice president of the United States spoke at the World Summit on Persecuted Christians, an event organized by the Rev. Franklin Graham, in Washington, D.C.
Vice President Mike Pence promised that "protecting and promoting religious liberty is a foreign-policy priority" of the Trump administration. Is there any more simple way of protecting religious liberty than allowing men, women and children to go to pray at a monastery without being slaughtered?
There are two very practical ways the protection and promotion of religious liberty can actually be a foreign-policy "priority": money and immigration. The U.S. provides $1.3 billion each year in military aid to the Egyptian government.
Just days ago, President Trump said Egyptian President Al-Sisi was doing "a tremendous job" — but not apparently so tremendous when it comes to protecting the indigenous and ancient Christian community of his own country. Within the last week, in Saudi Arabia, Trump gave what many are calling the strongest challenge to Muslim leaders in decades.
At the judgment seat, we will not be asked whether we were politically correct.
He then signed a multimillion-dollar arms deal with the Saudis. Saudi textbooks, Saudi-trained imams and Saudi-sponsored mosques spread the most virulent and extreme form of Wahhabism. Cut the money if there is no promotion and protection of religious liberty.
Victims of genocide must be given priority to emigrate to the United States and other countries of their choice. It would, indeed, be a tragedy for Christianity to disappear from the very place it came to birth, especially Egypt — which sheltered the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph when they faced persecution. Nevertheless, it may be politically incorrect to prioritize Christians for immigration.
Yet at the judgment seat, we will not be asked whether we were politically correct. We will be asked what we did for our suffering brothers and sisters.
Fr. Benedict Kiely is a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, which is helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.