The prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has blessed the construction sites of two Coptic churches in Egypt, a country where Catholics now represent only 0.27% of the population.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri traveled to Egypt from February 25 to March 4, 2019 and visited the Coptic Catholic eparchies (dioceses) of Upper Egypt.
The afternoon of February 26th was spent blessing the cornerstone of the church of Medinet Nasr in the eparchy of Lycopolis (Asyut), “in the presence of an immense crowd,” as the local ordinary, Bishop Cyrilus William Motran commented to Egypt Today.
The next day, the Argentinian prelate presided over the laying of the first stone of the future St. George cathedral for the eparchy of Luxor; the former cathedral was destroyed by a fire on April 21, 2016, whose cause remains unknown to this day.
At the last census in 2015, there were 272,000 Catholics in the land of the Pharaohs; 200,000 belonged to the Coptic rite, and the others—mostly non-Egyptians—to the Latin, Armenian, Greek, Syriac, Maronite and Chaldean rites.
The Church has been present in Egypt since apostolic times, and tradition would have it the evangelist St. Mark lived there. After the Council of Chalcedonia (451), most of the faithful fell into the heresy of Monophysitism that denies the double nature—human and divine—of Christ.
After surviving as well as they could under the yoke of Islam that reduced them to the status of dhimmis when it was not persecuting them, the Coptic Catholics became visible once again in 1895, with the creation of the Patriarchate of Alexandria by Pope Leo XIII.
Note: the term dhimmi is a Muslim legal term. It designates a non-Muslim, citizen of a Muslim State, subject to discriminatory conditions such as a special tax, a prohibition from certain functions, submissive behavior and special clothing.