Hundreds of Christians Gather for Day of Prayer for Egypt

Hundreds of Christians in the U.K. took part in a day of prayer for believers in Egypt on Saturday as protests against President Hosni Mubarak reached crisis point.

The day of prayer was organized by Christian Solidarity Worldwide and United Action for Egyptian Christians in light of the increasing marginalization and persecution of Christians there.

Some 500 Christians from different denominations and traditions took part, including Bishop Angaelos, the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain.

Reflecting on the religious and political situation in Egypt, Bishop Angaelos said the prayers of Christians needed to focus on healing the brokenness of humanity.

"We pray for God's healing. We pray for strength. We pray for guidance for everyone in Egypt at the moment, those who are protesting, the security forces, the army the President as he stands today, and whatever happens after that. We are sure that we're in God's hands," he said.

The bishop said Christians had a "duty" to fill Egypt with light, as he spoke of their determination to stay.

"As a church we've been there for 2,000 years. We're a resilient bunch. We're not going anywhere. We're the indigenous people of Egypt and we're staying in Egypt and people need to realize that. I do not mean that provocatively but defiantly," he said.

"So we pray for the continuity of the church. We know we will stay. We know we will be there. We are just praying that our brother and sisters are able to worship and express themselves peacefully without persecution without marginalization."

Although the history of the church in Egypt is generally one of persecution, the last few years have seen an alarming escalation in discrimination and violence against Christians, with 53 incidents of sectarian violence from 2008 to 2010, according to CSW.

On New Year's Day, a church in Alexandria was bombed killing more than 20 people. Just over a week later, one Christian man was killed and five other Christians injured when a gunman opened fire on a train bound for Cairo.

Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to death for his part in killing six Copts as they left a Coptic Christmas Mass in Nag Hammadi on January 6, 2010. The dead included the Muslim guard deployed to protect the church.

While the violence against Christians is committed by a minority of Muslim radicals rather than the majority of moderate Muslims, the country's laws reinforce discrimination.

Egypt is one of the few countries in the world which requires a person's religion to appear on their ID card. The religion on the ID card dictates what activities a citizen is allowed to take part in and converts from Islam are not allowed to change their official religion to Christianity, meaning that they are still expected to live as Muslims.

While there are no restrictions on building mosques, it is nearly impossible for Christians to build churches as the process to acquire a permit is extremely complex. For many Christians in Egypt, worship must take place in the home or in informal gatherings.

With Egypt now in political turmoil, Christians face renewed uncertainty.

Stuart Windsor, national director of CSW, said the day of prayer was "timely." He urged Christians in the U.K. to be a "voice for voiceless Christians" in Egypt.

"It is a privilege for us to speak up for and stand with our brothers and sisters in Egypt," he said.

"They need your support more than ever and the country of Egypt needs your prayers more than ever.

"They live daily facing harassment, discrimination and violence in a time of increasing tension.

"They are highly vulnerable."

CSW has made Egypt its country of focus for 2011, with yesterday's day of prayer marking the launch of its yearlong campaign, "No Way Out." It is seeking 50,000 signatures for a petition calling upon Egypt to see that justice is served and that the violence against Christians is confronted.

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