Egypt inaugurated one of the Middle East’s largest cathedrals on Orthodox Christmas Eve, just a day after a deadly bomb blast targeted a church in the capital.
Security was tight as President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi opened the Nativity of Christ in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital, 45 kilometres east of Cairo, ahead of Coptic midnight mass.
On the same day, the country’s former military chief also opened one of the region’s largest mosques in the same area.
It was a bold move in Egypt where extremist groups including Isis have repeatedly attacked the country’s embattled Coptic community, who make up an estimated 10 per cent of the 100 million-strong population and face mass discrimination.
Just a day before the inauguration a policeman was killed, and two others injured, trying to defuse a device which had been placed on the rooftop of a mosque near a church in the Nasr City district of Cairo
“This is an important moment in our history,” President Sisi said at the event which was attended by several foreign dignitaries including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
“We are one and we will remain one,” he added, referring to Egyptian Christians and Muslims.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who later led the mass, said: “On this day we see you have fulfilled this promise and here we are witnessing a great opening on this grand occasion.”
US President Donald Trump was quick to applaud the opening.
“Excited to see our friends in Egypt opening the biggest Cathedral in the Middle East. President Al-Sisi is moving his country to a more inclusive future,” he tweeted on Sunday.
The security forces were taking no chances at the event which was held in a nearby hotel. Worshippers had to pass through three sets of metal detectors, while armoured vehicles and dozens of ambulances were stationed nearby.
A documentary screened at the opening said that the cathedral has the capacity to hold 8,000 people, making it the largest in the Middle East.
The nearby Al-Fattah al-Aleem Mosque can hold nearly double that number.
Both are located in the new administrative capital, a major development the Egyptian government hopes will supersede crowded Cairo in the coming years.
But many fear the cathedral will only become the target of future attacks in the country that since the 2013 military overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi has been rocked by shootings and suicide bombings claimed by groups like Isis.
Mr Sisi stormed to power in 2014 promising to protect the Christian community, who make up one of his most loyal support bases.
But religious rights activists say that Christians in Egypt do not enjoy the same rights as their Muslim counterparts and are not properly protected by the security forces.
More than 100 Copts have been killed in jihadist attacks since December 2016 alone.
In November Isis claimed to be behind the deadly shooting of a bus of Christian pilgrims in Minya, in which six Copts and one Anglican were killed.
Militants killed a further 40 people in twin church bombings in April 2017, and an Isis gunman in December of that year gunned down nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.
Many fear Mr Sisi’s fierce crackdown on Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders have been rounded, killed or forced to flee, has only radicalised islamist youth which has fed recruitment drives by extremist groups.
Several major military operations in the restive Sinai Peninsula, where most of the jihadi groups are anchored, has also failed to curb the killings.
Hundreds of tourists, police officers and soldiers have also died in the attacks.
In late December, a roadside bomb near the famed Giza pyramids killed three Vietnamese visitors and their Egyptian guide.
In 2015 militants claimed to have detonated a bomb on a Russian passenger jet after it left the South Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
No one claimed responsibility for Saturday’s bomb, which was placed inside a bag on top of al-Haq Mosque in Nasr City, Cairo.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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