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EGYPT-CHURCHES (UPDATED) Aug-16-2013 (940 words) With photos posted Aug. 14, 15 and 16. xxxi

Catholic spokesman defends Egyptian army crackdown against protesters

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A spokesman for Egypt's Catholic Church defended a police and army crackdown against Egyptians protesting the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi.

"The military tried to evacuate this sit-in by the Muslim Brotherhood, but they (Brotherhood members) went out and set fire to important sites, including many churches," said Father Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, a spokesman for the Catholic Coptic Church.

"This is a problem not just for Christians but also for moderate Muslims. We are facing a group of terrorists who seek to set the whole country ablaze, and we have to cooperate together against this," he said.

Egypt's Health Ministry confirmed Aug. 15 that more than 500 protesters and police were killed and more than 3,700 injured when security forces used bulldozers, tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protest camps in Cairo and other cities around the country,

In an Aug. 15 Catholic News Service interview, Father Kiroulos said Western media had falsified the situation in Egypt by portraying the conflict as political when it mostly concerned violent acts by a small minority of Egypt's 82.5 million inhabitants.

"The security forces are doing their best, but the situation is uneasy. They don't want to attack or kill fellow-Egyptians, but they have to stop people who come at them with arms," he said.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut told Vatican Radio Aug. 15 that the government action and the reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood were not unexpected "because Egypt won't accept an Islamic state." The majority, he said, "wants to separate religion from the state."

Morsi supporters were "shouting slogans against the government, against the police and against the Christians because they are persuaded that all three are the cause of the fall of Morsi's regime."

The demonstrators "burned various churches, including one of ours, the one belonging to the Franciscan convent in Assiut," he said. They climbed the wall and entered the compound, burning the cars that were in the courtyard, setting on fire a souvenir stand, and then setting afire the church "after having profaned it by throwing the tabernacle on the ground."

They also burned an Orthodox church and a Seventh-day Adventist church in the city, the bishop said.

In el-Qusiya, Bishop William said, the demonstrators started going toward a convent of nuns, "but then some wise people, including Muslims -- said to them, 'What have they done wrong? They've been doing good here for 70 years.' And they chased them off."

Christian sources said seven Catholic churches were attacked by Muslim extremist mobs in Upper Egypt. They said 25 places of worship belonging to the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant churches, and at least 100 Christian homes and shops, a school and convent were burned.

Father Fady Saady, Coptic Catholic priest from the Egyptian city of Naqada, said no one had come to church Aug. 16. Fridays are days off in predominantly Muslim Egypt.

"They are afraid to leave their houses; so far nothing has happened here, but no one knows when something could," he said.

Father Saady said some members of his parish were "working alongside Muslims to protect the police stations" that have also been burned in the violence engulfing the country.

A Cairo-based nun from an Italian Catholic order said she had been in contact with fellow nuns in Catholic schools in two southern provinces. Both schools had been burned Aug. 15, said the nun, who was afraid to give her name.

And a Catholic education facility in Minya was burned in the violence as well, according to Jesuit Father Mohsen Ghaly.

"I went yesterday to Minya ... we discovered the state of destruction. There is much material damage ... the windows of the residence and the school are smashed by stones ... the bus and the cars are all burned as well," Father Ghaly wrote in an email to his fellow Jesuits Aug. 16. A copy of the email was sent to CNS.

In Cairo, Maryknoll Father Douglas May said on his Facebook page that German nuns for whom he was scheduled to celebrate Mass Aug. 16 expressed concern that some Holy Cross sisters had received a "warning note." He did not specify what was in the note.

Father Kiroulos said the church was telling people "to stay calm, avoid violent reactions and wait for this moment to pass."

He said church leaders hoped to form a joint commission to defend Christian sites and said he had been in touch with police and army officials to explain Catholic needs.

"It's normal in any country with problems for minorities to suffer," said the priest. "The attackers want Christians to pay the price for supporting democracy and to play up tensions between Christians and Muslims, calculating we will then go into the streets and do the same to Muslims. But this isn't our intention."

Some Egyptians have criticized Christian leaders for backing the June 30 military overthrow of Morsi. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Egypt's grand imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, appeared alongside Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during his televised announcement.

Father Kiroulos denied that the Catholic Coptic Church had backed the June military intervention.

"The church did not support a military coup -- on the contrary, the military supported the desire of the people, and the church is part of the people," said the priest, who is secretary to Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak.

"As Egyptian Coptic Catholics, we aren't asking for help or protection from outside the country, only from our own government and military. This is our right -- and it's the duty of the authorities, who are doing their best."


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