On Palm Sunday, midway through a special service for the start of Holy Week, a suicide bomber detonated his device, killing 27 worshippers at St George’s Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. SAT-7 field reports producer Ramy Samir spoke to eyewitnesses at the scene and the channel’s Egypt studio broadcast a programme of reflections and prayer for viewers affected by the attack and a second bombing at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria.
Here are some of the comments of the Tanta congregation and of church leaders from Egypt’s Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical communities.
“Innocent children were killed. Those members of the choir [directly in front of the suicide bomber] were all the top in their fields, be it engineering, medicine and law. They were the flower of youth and at the peak of their careers. All of them died,” one eyewitness said.
“One of our friends was standing with us at church during mass and we saw this man enter and walk up to the front row. Our friend was just about to say that he had concerns that the man was wearing an explosive belt when the explosion happened. He hadn’t finished his sentence when it happened,” said a second survivor of the attack.
A third worshipper said he would leave justice for the atrocity in God’s hands, saying, “We won’t say anything because God will give His verdict.”
Another agreed: “I say to the Lord: You see… you know… grant justice for those innocent people who were killed. This is a special week where we spend time in church praying but now we are sad. Why? What did we do?”
A different focus
One congregation member had a different focus and spoke of the joy that his fellow worshippers now have in Christ’s presence: “We are joyous because the martyrs will spend Easter in heaven. Our church is blessed. They left because they were ready but we aren’t yet ready. Not all members of the choir died. The ones who died were chosen because the Bible says ‘one will be taken and the other left’” (Mathew 24:40).
One eyewitness remembered that “at the time of the bomb explosion, the choir was singing a special Coptic tune called Evlogiménos. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was at that moment that they went to be with their Lord.
Ramy Samir described his experience of visiting the church with members of the SAT-7 crew. They arrived after the bodies of victims had been were removed but “there were fragments of body parts on the floor and in the ceiling. There was a strong smell of blood in the church mixed with the smell of gunpowder.
“I am used to covering events like this,” Ramy said, “and, to act professionally, I do not normally show my emotions. This time was different: I couldn’t help it.”
Words of comfort and faith
In between encouraging words of Scripture, pastors and clergy speaking on the SAT-7 broadcast recognised the grief, shock and bewilderment Christians in Egypt are facing. But they reminded them that their suffering in this life would be eclipsed by eternity with their Saviour.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Moheb Melad, a pastor at Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church said: “God is in control and He sees all that’s happening. He wants us to live here on earth knowing our heavenly identity. We are human beings and what we are going through in Egypt and the region is very difficult and painful. It can break any believer, but I believe that God can lift us up and fill our hearts with peace beyond understanding. Our God conquered death. For us death is a passage to eternity and eternal glory where we will see Him.”
Father Botros Rushdy, priest at Saint Samaan Church (better known as Cairo’s “Cave Church”), said: “We don’t hate life or the world. On the contrary, we were created for the glory of God’s name, to be the salt of the earth as Jesus Christ said. We have a calling on earth and in the world. I want to send my condolences to all those who are in pain because of the recent events. Our children who were martyred for the sake of Jesus Christ are dressed in white and have crowns of gold on their heads. They are relieved from all the troubles of life. The Bible says “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on… they will rest from their labour.”
Milad Shehata director of the Franciscan Centre, told viewers: “No words of condolence can do justice to what is happening in these days but we ask for grace from Jesus Christ. We ask Him to give us grace and strength. We ask Him to keep us steadfast in faith and love for Him in order to continue on the path that will end with His second coming. Despite all this pain and difficulty, we can see in the faces of the families of the martyrs a true Christian life. They are the persevering church that declares the kingdom of God.”
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1Peter 4:13)
Nady Labib, pastor at the Evangelical Church in Mokattam added, “We cannot deny that we are living in difficult times now. Firstly, pain is our daily reality. The Bible mentioned pain and said it was a school through which many people went through such as Joseph. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. We are paying a high price for our faith but this school of pain brings about heroes. It is important not to live in sorrow but to realise that pain is a stage within a certain time frame. Secondly, we all have a calling and as soon as we complete it our life on earth ends. It is a divine decision. Therefore, I must recognise what my calling is and ask if I am doing it according to God’s will before my time comes. Thirdly, there are no promises of a bright future or safety. We cannot claim that persecution will end and the future will be better. The future might be even more difficult. In the end we must realise that our future is in God’s hands. He is the only guarantee.”
Report by Mary Joseph, SAT-7 Egypt Communications Officer
Read full report on Palm Sunday attacks in Alexandria and Tanta