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Egypt legalizes 156 Christian church buildings; about 3,000 more awaiting approval

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The Egyptian government legalized 156 more Christian churches and church-affiliated buildings last Tuesday as it continues to slowly make its way through thousands of applications from churches seeking legal recognition.

The 156 new church buildings approved by the federal government last week bring the total number of church buildings that have received legal status to 783 since the passing of a 2016 law regulating church construction.

The buildings were approved by a special government committee headed by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Cabinet spokesperson Nader Saad told Egypt Today.

Although 783 churches have received legal status since the passing since 2016, over 3,700 church buildings are waiting for approval in the Muslim-majority nation.

The 2016 law is the nation’s first law ever providing specific rules for the construction of Christian churches. At the time, some believed the law would make it easier for Christians to renovate churches while critics feared it could give too much power to local governments to deny church construction.

According to International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that monitors the persecution of Christians across the globe, the churches that have thus far received approval by the Egyptian government are ones that operated illegally prior to 2016 in buildings that have already been constructed.

ICC is concerned about reports suggesting that government approval of projects to build entirely new church buildings have “slowed considerably.”

Last April, Egypt’s former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail called for the church legalization process to be sped up. His call came as only 219 church buildings had been approved at that point.

Last October, it was reported that only 340 out of 3,730 applications had been approved. This meant that nearly 3,400 church buildings were still left waiting for approval two years after the church construction regulation was passed.

“Some Christians see the legalization of 783 churches as an improvement. Others, however, point to a contradictory narrative, the government will not approve new churches, but will build the largest church in the Middle East in a location where no Christians live.”

Last December, the government committee approved 168 other churches and church buildings.
“In Egyptian society, Islamic culture fuels discrimination and creates an environment causing the state to be reluctant to respect and enforce the fundamental rights of Christians,” .“Though President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi has publicly expressed his commitment to protecting Christians, his government’s actions and extremist groups’ continued Christian persecution attacks on individuals and churches, leaving Christians feeling insecure and extremely cautious.”

Christians in Egypt have faced severe persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State that have led to several killings over the last several years.

At least seven were killed and 20 others were injured when suspected Islamic State militants attacked buses leaving a desert Monastery near Minya last November.

That attack mirrored a similar attack that occurred in 2017 on a bus near the same monastery.

Twenty-nine people were killed in the 2017 attack, which was also claimed by the Islamic State’s affiliate group in Sinai. That group has also claimed responsibility for deadly church bombings that occurred in December 2016 and January 2017 as well as other attacks against Christians in Egypt.

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Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools

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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’.

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China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service

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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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UAE to rebuild Iraqi churches destroyed by Daesh

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The United Arab Emirates, a Muslim-majority country, has pledged its support to help rebuild two historic churches in Mosul, Iraq. The efforts come in conjunction with UNESCO’s initiative, Revive the Spirit of Mosul.

Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church and Al-Saa’a Church in Mosul were both destroyed by ISIS and are being rebuilt under a program to help postwar Iraq. Al-Tahira, an 800-year-old building, was damaged during mass raids in 2017 while Al-Saa’a was blown up by ISIS terrorists in 2016. The rebuild efforts will target to employee up to 1,000 locals and increase the city’s tourism economy.

UAE’s support of Iraqi Christians comes as part of their 2019 “Year of Tolerance” as proclaimed by the President, Sheikh Khalifa. The goal of the initiative is to place the UAE as a model of tolerance and increase communication between divided groups. The Abrahamic Family House, a religious facility that includes a mosque, church and synagogue, is another portion of UAE’s proposed religious tolerance efforts.

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