Christians in Egypt say ebbing persecution enables them to build churches again

(REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)Relatives of victims react to coffins arriving to the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017.

Church projects halted in Egypt when the northeast African nation was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood are resuming as Christians in the country begin to reap some measure of freedom.

Catholic pontifical and charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International says Egypt's Christians have more freedom of worship today than they did a few years ago.

That was when Egypt was dominated by the Islamist group that ruled from 2012 until the beginning of July 2013, according to Catholic News Agency.

Alexandria's patriarch, Archbishop Ibrahim Sidrak, told ACN that even though Christians in Egypt still experience persecution, Coptic Catholics in the country — who number some 300,000 — have seen a need to start the construction of churches to provide pastoral care to their members.

"Now that the government has lifted the obstacles to building new churches, all the dioceses have building projects," Sidrak said, CNA reported.

Sidrak cited Luxor Cathedral, which burned down in 2016 and is being restored with the support of ACN.

"One of the most emblematic examples of the Coptic Catholics' thirst for reconstruction is our cathedral in Luxor," he said.

"It will soon be completely restored, thanks in particular to the support of the ACN Foundation."

Delegates from the French Bishops' Conference visiting the Muslim-majority North African country replicated the tone of his message.

Catholic nun Sister Paula offered the bishops two large plates of traditional half-moon pastries typical during Ramadan in Egypt. La Croix International reported.

"These were brought to us by a Muslim friend of the congregation," she told the visiting delegation from the French Bishops' Conference.

They included Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims and president of the conference, Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Paris, and Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre,

There were also representatives from L'Oeuvre d'Orient, a church charity under the patronage of the Archbishop of Paris, and helping Eastern Christians from 23 countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Eastern Europe, and India.

They visited Egypt from April 9 to 13.

Sister Paula and five other nuns, runs the Virgin Mary of Our Lady of Sorrows home, established in 1956 in the affluent Heliopolis neighborhood. The home currently houses nearly 100 elderly people.

"Today, we have 95 residents, three-quarters of whom are Orthodox Copts. There are no Muslims at the moment, but we welcome everyone," Sister Amelle said.

La Croix reported that while coexistence is a cornerstone of the convent founded in 1904, it hasn't always been the case in the country.

It noted that Egypt's Christian communities, especially the Copts, have experienced periods of sometimes bloody persecution, particularly during the brief tenure of the Muslim Brotherhood in power from June 2012 to July 2013.

Subsequent attacks claimed by the ISIS Islamist terror group continued to target this population until 2018.

Egyptian Orthodox Copts have an estimated 10 to 15 million adherents, and make up around 10 percent of the country's population, constituting the largest Christian minority in the Middle East region.

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