Egypt closes church, blocks worship at another

MINYA, Egypt — Egyptian officials have closed at least 15 Christian worship sites in the Upper Egypt bishopric of Minya and blocked worship at another, calling them security risks.

The most recent closure in July was that of the Virgin Mary and St. Paula Church which serves three villages in the province that lies along the Nile south of Cairo. Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Minya Anba Makarios spent weeks appealing to security officials to re-open the church before making the rare decision to go public with his discontent in August.

The bishop denies security agency assertions that area Muslims object to the 1,300 member church, saying they live peaceably with Coptic Christians.

Church leaders believe local officials have closed the church in order to appease Islamic extremists. Hard-line Muslims damaged it after a funeral in March 2012 as police stood by, and then local officials closed it for an extended period on the pretext of security concerns rather than committing to protect it, according to church leaders.

On Aug. 20 in the same region, police used force to keep a church from meeting in a private home. According to a local resident, police said the church lacked a permit to worship in the home, but Makarios said no permit is necessary.

Orthodox Copts have been trying to find places of worship while minding prohibitions against potentially dangerous, mass movements of Christians, Makarios said. Egypt’s constitution affirms freedom of worship but that right is continually denied. As a result, 70 villages, farmsteads and hamlets do not have places for prayer, he said. (MS)