Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Martyrs and Saints

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several riots by Muslims have produced new martyrs for the Coptic Church. Among those of the nineteenth century is Sidhum Bishai (1804-44). He served as clerk at the port of Damietta when a Muslim-instigated revolt broke out and he was accused of insulting Islam. He was killed and his body now reposes in the Church of the Holy Virgin in Damietta.

Under the leadership of President Sadat Islamist fundamentalist movements were encouraged in Egypt. These groups began a systematic persecution of Christians, especially in Upper Egypt. The persecutions resulted in the deaths of many who became martyrs, some of them known by name while others remain anonymous. Islamic fundamentalism began to gain ground in Egypt in the late 1960s and was aggravated when Sadat became president in 1970. The new president was a pious Muslim and his name had been linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder and head, Hasan al-Banna, he had met as early as 1940. Sadat was appointed Secretary General of the Islamic Congress in 1954-5, and he represented President Nasser at the first Islamic summit in Rabbat in 1969. Under Sadat's regime Islamic extremism spread rapidly. He suspected that the vigorous and opinionated spiritual leader of the Copts, Pope Shenouda III, was willing to take advantage of the seeming weakness of the pre-October 1973 government to press for the fulfilment of Coptic demands. Sadat did not take any action after the Khanqa incidents in 1972 when a Coptic church was burned.

In 1977, under pressure from Islamic militants, the Egyptian government announced its intention of reinstating capital punishment for those Christians who converted to Islam and then reneged on their new faith and returned to Christianity. The Coptic Church protested with a five-day fasting period. In 1978 and 19 79 Muslim fundamentalist violence against Coptic Christians escalated, and Sadat was unwilling or unable to suppress it. During these years a priest, Marcus Aziz, was killed in the city of Samalut in the province of Minya. In the same city, Father Gabriel abd al Mutagaly, and a woman and a child were killed. In Oalubyia province, in Mansha Delo, two Coptic men were killed for being Christian. The government took the part of the Islamists and promulgated the idea that shariah law should be the basis for legislation in Egypt.

In June 1981, six months before the assassination of President Sadat, in the Cairene suburb of Zawiya al-Hamra, Muslim fundamentalists tried to build a mosque on a parcel of land belonging to a Copt. The landowner was surrounded and threatened by a crowd of Muslims, and he opened fire in self-defence. The police did not intervene and at the end of the three-day on-and-off battle, there were many victims.

A relatively calm period followed the assassination of Sadat in 1981 and the election of President Mubarak. However, Muslim fundamentalists started receiving funds associated with oil revenues and some of this money helped to finance extremist activities against the Copts. As a result Islamist groups started to control several regions. In Assiut province, in the city of Abu Tig, Father Ruweiss Fakher, parish priest of the Church of Dweina in Abu Tig was killed in 1988, having resisted pressure to close his church.

There was much aggression against Christians under a new interior minister, Abdel Halim Musa, who was known for his Islamist sympathies. In April 1990 seven Copts died in an attack against a Coptic church in Alexandria. In September 1991, at Embaba in Cairo, several Copts were murdered and their homes destroyed. In May 1992, at Dayrout in Assiut province, twelve Coptic students were murdered along with their teacher while they were in class. The government was unable to control the situation. Again in 1993 many violent incidents took place in the provinces of Assiut and Sohag, for which various Islamic radical and militant groups were responsible. In January 2000 at El-Kosheh in Sohag province twenty-one Copts were murdered and many shops were destroyed as a result of random armed raids on the community.

Several modern monastics are venerated by the Coptic people as saints, among whom is 'Abd al-Masih al-Makari (1892-1963). He was a monk at the Monastery of Saint Macarius, but lived at times in other monasteries. He served as a parish priest in the village of al-Manahra and used sometimes to act strangely, to hide his holiness. He is venerated as a wonderworker and is buried in the Church of al-Manahra. Abraham

Bishop of Fayyum (1829-1914) was the abbot of the Monastery of al-Muharraq in Upper Egypt. After being accused of mismanagement he was tracked down to the Monastery of Baramus. There he met the abbot who was to become Patriarch Cyril V, and who would ordain him Bishop of Fayyum. Abraham is known for his charity to the poor, and as a wonderworker. He is buried in Dair al-'Azab, Fayyum. Mikha'il al-Buhayri (1847-1923), a monk in the Monastery of al-Muharraq and a disciple of Anba Abraham, Bishop of Fayyum, practised sanctity by observing total silence.

Patriarch Cyril VI (1959-71) was first a monk at the Monastery of Baramus, before he became a hermit in the hills near Cairo. During the Second World War he was forced to leave his cell, which was in a windmill, and to live in Cairo. He built a church and named it after his patron saint, Menas. After his enthronement he built the Monastery of Saint Menas and the Cathedral of Cairo, and during his patriarchate some relics of Saint Mark were returned to Egypt. In the latter part of his period of office apparitions of the Virgin Mary began to be seen in the church of Zeitun, a suburb of Cairo. He is venerated as a wonderworker, and his shrine at the Monastery of Saint Menas, along with the cells he occupied at the Monastery of Baramus and at the windmill, attract many pilgrims.

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