Day 6

Coptic Christian churches are reining in their Easter celebrations after Palm Sunday bombings

In Egypt, many churches are toning down their Easter celebrations in the wake of two Palm Sunday bombings that killed 45 parishioners in Tanta and Alexandria. The violence hits close to home for many Egyptian-Canadians, including Father John Boutros, a priest in Toronto whose family attends one of the churches that was attacked.
Egyptian Christians pray during the Good Friday procession at the Arch Angels Greek Orthodox Church in the capital Cairo, on April 14, 2017. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The coordinated Palm Sunday bombings of two Christian churches in Egypt have cast a dark shadow over this weekend's Easter celebrations.

At least 45 people were killed and many more wounded in the twin attacks in Tanta and Alexandria last weekend.

The attack comes just months after a suicide bombing killed 25 people at a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo.

On Sunday night, the Egyptian government declared a three-month state of emergency in response to the bombings. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and says more are on the way.

A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Many churches across Egypt have limited or canceled their Easter festivities in response to the violence and in Canada's Coptic churches, religious celebrations will be similarly subdued.

On Wednesday, the Coptic bishop who oversees many North American churches asked worshippers to limit their celebrations to the rites and rituals of the church.

At Father John Boutros's church, Easter celebrations will hold a note of sadness after at least 45 Coptic Christians were killed in Egypt on Palm Sunday. (Submitted by: John Boutros)
Father John Boutros is a priest with St. Moses and St. Katherine Coptic Church in downtown Toronto.

He tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury that Easter celebrations will have a different tone for his congregation this weekend.

"There will necessarily be an undertone of sadness, of mourning for those who have lost their loved ones," he says.

Members of Boutros' own family attend St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, where one of the bombings occurred.

"They were just putting their kids in the car, had closed the door and started driving away, and literally saw the explosion in their rearview mirror."

Forensics teams collect evidence at the site of a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, Egypt, on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)


"Nothing is going to scare us away"

Boutros says that despite the threat, he expects people will still gather together publicly to express their faith.

"They are flocking to the churches and flocking to the services," he says. "This is Holy Week for us, where we have services every morning and every evening. And those services are jam-packed."

Egyptian Christians attend the Good Friday procession at the Arch Angels Greek Orthodox Church in the capital Cairo, on April 14, 2017. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

"ISIS has declared war on Christianity," Boutros says. "So Christians are saying, 'We still believe. Nothing is going to scare us away. Nothing.'"

But that doesn't mean parishioners are unaware of the dangers they face.

"I think every single person is going to be wondering if anything is going to happen to them," Boutros says. "I think every single person is at least going to have the thought cross their mind of whether they're going to make it home for Easter dinner that night."

"However, I'm very optimistic that it will be a peaceful and joyful celebration for all."

Egyptians look at the scene after a suicide bombing in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Fawzy Abdel Hamied/Reuters)


A pattern of violence

Egypt's Christian minority has faced repeated persecution and sectarian attacks.

In 2013, dozens of churches were destroyed, many of which have yet to be fully repaired, according to Boutros.

Still, Boutros says the Coptic Christian community remains hopeful that the Egyptian government is committed to protecting them from sectarian violence.

Relatives and onlookers gather outside a church after a bomb attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (Ahmed Hatem/Associated Press)

He points to the government's response in the aftermath of the bombing at Egypt's main Coptic cathedral in Cairo in December, 2016, when facilities were quickly rebuilt and renovated.

"There is tentative optimism from Christians in Egypt about the government being willing to help."

Boutros says Coptic Christians tend to put their hope in God rather than in politics. But he thinks it is possible that the Palm Sunday bombings could inspire church leaders to take action.

"Maybe there is a shift now that there's a feeling that there is a government that is listening," he says.

"Maybe the leadership will be a little bit more demanding."

To hear Brent Bambury's conversation with Father John Boutros, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.