Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Egyptian Governor Suspends Church Renewal until Bishop's Home is Torn Down

Written by Mary Abdelmassih
28 July 2010

Bishop Agathon, 75 clergy and nearly 150,000 Copts from parishes all over the Diocese of Maghagha & Edwah have staged a sit-in in Maghagha since Sunday 25 July 2010, protesting against the intransigence of the Governor of Minya.

During the sit-in, the Copts held banners asking for their rights to have a church, amidst chants of "With our soul and our blood, we will build our church."

Governor Ahmad Dia-Eldin has suspended the licence obtained for the renewal of the diocese in Maghagha, including the church after the old complex was pulled down as agreed. The pretext given was that the 45 sq. metres rooms where the Bishop lives and the public toilettes were
not pulled down as well.

The Bishop said that during negotiations, the Governor agreed verbally in front of all those present to keep the Bishop's rooms until new ones have been built. "Otherwise where will I put my head
to sleep and keep my papers? Said His Grace. The Governor now changed his mind and insists on adhering to the written agreement without his 'giveaways' and requires as a condition their immediate removal.

After nearly three and a half years of negotiations and appeals to President Mubarak, an agreement was reached early March 2010, between the Governor and the Bishop. The signed conditions were that the old buildings of the Coptic Diocese of Maghagha including the falling-apart church, which was built in 1934 through a Royal decree, were to be pulled down and in exchange the Governor of Minya would issue a licence for the renewal of the Diocese on adjacent land owned by the Church.

After the church was pulled down, the Bishop and congregation celebrate masses since March 16, 2010, in a make shift tent in the summer heat exceeding 45C. "Where stones are hurled inside the tent at us by Muslims," said one local Copt.

" Ever since the Islamist governor Ahmed Dia-Eldin took office in Minya in April 2008, Copts have only seen misery and persecution," said one of those interviewed at the rally, who wanted to remain anonymous. "Minya has now become the centre of Islamists and terrorists. Churches are destroyed, minor girls are abducted, never to be seen again, Copts are attacked and forcibly evicted from their
villages, to be replaced by Muslims."

In an interview with Freecopts advocacy, the Bishop said that he believes that the Governor suspended the renewal licence because during the negotiations, he tried to seize the land of the pulled down
old diocese, insisting that the land has be donated to the governorate. "When we refused, explaining that this land is an endowment to the Church and cannot be donated further, he held agrudge against us because of our refusal he suspended the licenselater."

It was agreed that this vacant land is to be used, subject to the Church's financial circumstances, for erecting a free health care centre to be used by Christians and Muslims alike, as is always the case with Church services.

The Governor also wanted that all of the fence surrounding the old Diocese to be pulled down immediately as well, explaining that whoever is walking in the street would see that the church was removed
and feel at peace!" Bishop Agathon told activist Wagih Yacoub in an aired interview. "We have pulled down the whole fence, except for two gates. However this has angered the Governor as those had a Cross on them." The Bishop added that after 90 days when the diocese was subjected to thefts and assaults, we had to rebuild it temporarily until the renewal licence is issued. “It is not safe for the Bishop to stay without a guarding fence,” he added.

Bishop Agathon said that his holiness Pope Shenouda III saw this problem coming when he knew that the Governor insisted that the Diocese buildings have to be pulled down before a licence is granted for renewal. "His Holiness told me that he doubts whether they will allow us to build a new one."

Commenting on the toilette issue, Bishop Agathon said:"Is this something over which to suspend the licence? Besides, if it was agreed that a new Bishopric with a church is to be built, where will the labourers and public go if they want to use the toilettes until such time?"

The Governor of Minya went out on the Egyptian TV on June 25, saying contrary to the truth, that the Bishop of Maghagha wants two dioceses near each other, failing to mention that all buildings including the church of the old diocese was pulled down. (Freecopts video showing the pulled down diocese

The US-based Coptic human rights TV channel Hope-Sat, interviewed the Governor, who had no answers to the questions put to him, regarding the toilettes and the fence. He also said that a 7-storey building has not been pulled down. The Bishop who was also live on air answered him that the so-called 7-storey building is a 45 sq.metres rooms where he lives at the moment and to which the Governor has "kindly agreed to leave for the time being, as somewhere for me to sleep and to keep the diocese papers."

When outspoken Father Morcos Aziz, who serves in one of the Coptic Church in California, joined on air and asked the Governor what does he think of suspending the licence because of his insistence on the immediate removal of the toilettes? And what sort of impression does this give to the outside world about Egypt? The infuriated Governor, ended the conversation and put his phone down. "I hope the outside world sees what the Christians in Egypt have to go through to build just one church," commented father Morcos.

On July 27, the Governor decided that the rebuilding works need a new decree from President Mubarak, while the Bishop of Maghagha insists that the Royal decree is valid as "this is not a new church but a
renewal of a church that was falling apart."

The sit-in will continue at the Maghagha tent-come-church until Saturday July 31 and if the problem is not solved by then, the congregation from the Diocese Maghagha & Edwah which serves 250,000 Copts, will travel to Cairo to continue their sit-in at the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo, after presenting a petition signed by 160,000 Copts from the Diocese to President Mubarak.

"The people insist on complaining against the Governor" Bishop Agathon told activist Wagih Yacoub. "It is not possible that oneperson could deprive the people of their right to pray."

Mary Abdelmassih

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