As post-Mubarak Egypt stands at a crossroads, Coptic Orthodox bishop His Grace Bishop Serapion is certain his hopes and vision for the new Egypt are shared not only by his homeland’s Christians, but lovers of freedom and human rights everywhere.
“While we have a deep concern about the direction of the country, we still have strong hope and great dreams,” HG Bishop Serapion said Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Convention Center in an address about Copts’ vision and hope for building the new Egypt. The event, presented by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii, over which HG Bishop Serapion is bishop, honored Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been killed in religiously motivated attacks by extremists since 2000. Up to 1,500 people were expected to attend the event.
The event aimed to raise awareness of the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, where they comprise 10 percent of that nation’s 79 million people. The Copts are the largest Christian population in the Middle East. Approximately 40,000 Copts live in Greater Los Angeles, where there are 30 Coptic Orthodox churches.
Following the Jan. 25 revolution in Egypt, Copts’ concerns have deepened for the country’s direction, as pockets of violence have erupted against them. On Feb. 20, Daoud Boutros, a Coptic priest from Shotb near the southern Egyptian city of Assiut, was stabbed to death in his apartment. Father Daoud was a mentor of HG Bishop Serapion. That same day, Egyptian military forces began destroying fences protecting ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving the monks and monasteries vulnerable to attacks. On Feb. 23, military forces opened fire on monks and young people, wounding many severely.
In the past 11 years Coptic Christians have suffered severe persecution and martyrdom at the hands of Islamic extremists, including the New Year’s Day suicide bombing of Saint Mark and Pope Peter Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, which killed 24 Copts and injured approximately 100. Extremists gunned down six Coptic youths in Nag Hammadi in a Mass on Jan. 7, 2010. Extremists also killed 21 Copts in the village of Al Kosheh Jan. 21, 2000.
HG Bishop Serapion offered prayers for the martyrs and observed a moment of silence for those who died in recent weeks during political demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He echoed the Rev. Martin Luther King’s call to use non-violent means in advocating for a fair society for all Egyptians.
“What is the direction the society will move? Are we moving toward a state where every citizen has equal rights, irrespective of gender or religion, or a religious state where some people are considered as second-class citizens?” he asked. “We are at a crossroads in our society. We must focus on freedom, justice and equality, irrespective of the name of the person.”
Prompted by biblical and theological convictions, to achieve this dream of equality, Copts must wage non-violent struggle, HG Bishop Serapion said. The struggle entails rejecting injustice, exposing the evils of discrimination and standing up for Christians’ rights through the power of the truth, not the perpetuation of violence. Copts aim to cooperate with people of goodwill, regardless of religion, and will remain steadfast in their struggle “until our dream becomes reality,” he said.
“We must be ready to accept sacrifices,” he said. “Martyrs will fall and people will be wounded. This is the price of freedom and justice.”