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Catholic Voice
March 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO.5   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishop's Appeal hits record $2.8M raised in 2014
'That every parish have the best chance to make disciples'
Bishop meets with Copts after killings

Meeting in Hayward: Rev. Ramon Gomez, pastor at All Saints Parish, Hayward, Rev. Bishoy Ray Ibrahim, head of St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church in Hayward, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, and Rev. Alexander Q. Castillo, bishop's secretary and episcopal master of ceremonies.

Deeply saddened by the Islamic terrorist beheading of 21 Coptic men, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, visited the East Bay's Coptic leader to express condolences and show Christian solidarity with them.

"My heart goes out to you," the bishop told Father Bishoy Ray Ibrahim, head of St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church in Hayward. Bishop Barber visited the church before its Friday afternoon service to express solidarity of the Oakland Roman Catholic diocese with the besieged Coptic community.

The bishop said the Coptic martyrs would remain in his prayers. He asked that Catholics include them in prayers at Masses throughout the Oakland diocese. "We will pray for them and their families."

Pope Francis earlier had expressed public grief and sadness over the Feb. 15 killings of the Egyptian Christians, beheaded by Islamic State militants in Libya. The bishop said he was moved to reach out to the local Coptic community to show local support for the besieged fellow Christians.

"They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians," the Pope had said a day after the slaughter in a call to His Holiness Tawadros II, pope of the Coptic Patriarchy of Alexandria.

"The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!" the Pope emphasized.

"Their blood is one and the same," the pope continued. "Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians."

The next day Pope Francis offered Mass "for our 21 brother Copts, beheaded for the simple fact of being Christians. Let us pray for them, so that the Lord may welcome them as martyrs, for their families, and for my brother Tawadros, who suffers deeply."

Bishop Barber gave Father Ibrahim a cross that had been blessed by Pope Francis as an enduring sign of unity among Christians.

Although part of Egyptian society for 2,000 years, Copts were threatened when the Muslim Brotherhood took control of Egypt's government in 2011. More than 40 Coptic churches were burned and as many as 1,000 Copts were killed. They experienced some relief when Egypt's military removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013, restoring a more inclusive government.

The Coptic patriarchy's roots reach back to 48 A.D. when the evangelist St. Mark preached in Alexandria. In those days Copt was the term for what is now Egypt; before the rise of Islam most Egyptians were Copts. The Coptic community still numbers about 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people and the Coptic tradition remains centered in Egypt.

Copts note that they have suffered through 21 waves of persecution, including that of the Roman emperor, Diocletian, who martyred tens of thousands.

Today they feel increasing threats from the spread of Islamic militant movements that often direct violence toward non-Muslims.

The terrorists disseminated a video of the martyrdom on the Internet. They beheaded the Christians, who were praying as they knelt in a line, hands tied behind them.

Today several hundred thousand Copts live in the U.S., part of a migration from Egypt to find a safer life in the West.

St. Antonius is the largest of three Coptic communities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The others are St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church in Pleasanton and St. Mary and St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Concord.

"We are very happy to have you visit the church," Father Ibrahim told Bishop Barber, expressing gratitude for the support of fellow Christians in their time of peril.

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