Authorities in Egypt have reportedly closed down a 1,300-member church in the Minya governorate and are preventing Christians from worshiping at another church in the area, according to a report.
Morningstar News, a donor-funded news agency that reports on persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that the Virgin Mary and St. Paula Church in Kedwan village was shut down last month by authorities based on the claim that local Muslims objected to the church.
According to the outlet, the church served Christians from three different villages — Kedwan al-Baharyia, Kedwan al-Keblyia, Masaken Kedwan.
Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Minya Anba Makarios pressured government officials for weeks to re-open the church. But as the bishop's pressure on the government provided no result, Makarios issued a public statement refuting the government's claim that local Muslims opposed the church.
"The security apparatus has prevented Copts from practicing their rites in Kedwan, Minya, claiming that it was because of objections of some opposing factions in the village, and that it was necessary to be considerate of their feelings," Makarios was quoted as saying. "However, this means that there is no consideration for the feelings of the Copts and those who do not ask for anything but to pray, as if the decision belonged to the opposing factions and not to a great state such as Egypt, which should have authority and law."
Makarios stated that the majority of Muslims and Coptic Christians in the area co-exist peacefully and that the only opposition to the church came from a small extremist faction.
"There is actually no disagreements or disputes between the Copts and Muslims," the bishop stated. "He among them who opposes [opening the church], if any is found, gives the excuse of the necessity to obtain a security clearance. Regardless of whether these may be right in their opposition or not, the authorities instead of responding by pointing out that this is the prerogative of the state institutions, or by stating that allowing prayer is a legal right, affirm prevention of prayer! In doing so, they underscore at the same time that the opposing factions are right in their reasoning."
Morningstar News noted that the Virgin Mary and St. Paula Church in Kedwan is just one of at least 15 Christian places of worship that has faced closure in Minya.
"We have more than 15 places [of worship] closed on the order of the security apparatus, despite the existence of formal requests that are imprisoned in [desk] drawers," Makarios said in his statement. "Also, there are 70 villages, farmsteads and hamlets without places for prayers."
In addition to the closure of the worship centers, security officials this past Sunday prevented Christians from worshiping in a private house church in Minya's Ezbat Al-Forn village.
A local resident told Morning Star News that authorities claimed that the congregation lacked a permit to allow them to worship in the home. However, Makarios reportedly refuted the claim that a permit is needed.
The blockading of the church caused Coptic residents of Ezbat Al-Forn Village to write a letter to Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, titled "We were prevented from prayer like criminals."
"We were surprised to find police forces surrounding and entering the village to prevent the Egyptian Copts from prayer and were prevented from going out of our homes," the letter explains, according to Morning Star News. "We were attacked with inappropriate words ... As if we are criminals or outlaws and wanted for justice, accused of performing religious rituals. And is performing religious rituals a crime?"
Egypt currently ranks as the 21st worst nation in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List.
Earlier this summer, it was reported that authorities in Egypt's Beni Suef governorate raided a church in the village of Saft Al-Kharsa, removed all Christian iconography from the building and chained down the doors to prevent Christians in that area from worshiping there.