- (Photo: Open Doors)
Christians in the United States are observing a three-day mourning period, beginning Tuesday, to honor the 25 killed in the violent clashes, which erupted in Cairo on Sunday.
Coptic Christian leader Pope Shenouda III has urged followers around the world to fast and offer prayers for the deceased and those suffering in Cairo.
"We will continue to do all we can, sustained by prayer and trust in God, and the spiritual and moral support of all Catholics, Christians and people of good will," said Cardinal Antonius Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria.
There are roughly 300,000 expat Coptic Christians in the United States, many who emigrated from Egypt after February’s violent revolution threatened their religious freedom.
“When a Muslim protester gets killed, the whole country gets on its feet, but when Copts are killed, nothing happens,” mourner Fakhri Girgis Fakhri told The Los Angeles Times while attending a funeral presided over by Pope Shenouda III.
New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles have the most concentrated Coptic populations in the United States.
“We need to conquer evil with good. ... We pray for the salvation of the world," American Coptic Saad Michael Saad told the Huffington Post.
Violence erupted in Cairo Sunday when Christians gathered to protest against the Sept. 30 burning of a Coptic church in Southern Aswan. The burning was allegedly carried out local hardline Muslims who claimed the church did not have the license for the construction of a dome.
Although intended to be peaceful, violence broke out when military personnel commenced a crackdown on Sunday's protest.
Mourners are blaming the Egyptian army for the high death toll, arguing that the Christian march on Sunday was absolutely peaceful until the military started a crackdown. The ensuing clashes reportedly saw Islamic extremists join the attacks against the Christians and even saw a military vehicle driven directly into crowds of protesters.
"They were armed with swords, sticks and stones – some of them had rifles, it seems," Father Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church of Egypt, said in a statement to the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need.
"They did not have to use force. It was a peaceful demonstration," he added.
Thousands of Coptic Christians joined a funeral procession Monday to mourn their dead.
According to The Guardian newspaper, the brute force used by security forces on Sunday night is now undergoing investigation ordered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
In response to the ensuing violence, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle commented: “It is about time that the Egyptian leadership understands the importance of religious plurality and tolerance."
President Barack Obama has released a statement urging peace and compromise “so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”
Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm has said a group of men chanting, “Islamic, Islamic!” – “a common slogan of Islamist groups” – was spotted at Cairo’s Qasr al-Ainy Street less than an hour before the post-midnight attack. Another group, chanting “Allahu Akbar,” was seen standing next to a group of Central Security Forces officers elsewhere, it added.
The crackdown on protesters began minutes after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf asked military and security officials to “contain the situation.” But Sharaf blamed the violence on the “enemies of the Jan. 25 revolution.”
“This is a time for the entire body of Christ to pray for the church in Egypt and the entire region. It is also a time for all peoples of every religion to come together and work for true freedom, democracy and peace,” said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. In recent months, Christians have been anxious about their future in the country, as Islamic groups that remained underground or inactive during the rule of the now-ousted president Hosni Mubarak, became more socially and politically active following the fall of the regime in a the Jan. 25 revolution.