Egyptian Copts will celebrate Easter mass on Saturday in subdued fashion a week after the deadliest attacks against the country’s religious minority left 45 people dead in two cities north of Cairo.
Usually one of the most joyous occasions on the Christian calendar, the faithful will spend a large part of Easter eve going through arduous security checks outside places of worship, after twin Palm Sunday bombings in Tanta and Alexandria.
The government has declared a state of emergency and called in the army to protect “vital” installations following the bombings, which were claimed by the ISIS terror group.
“Security has indeed improved so much as it seems the situation needed to be tightened up a lot,” said Coptic Church spokesman Boulos Halim.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II will lead Easter mass in Cairo’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral, while the church said celebrations this year would be scaled back.
“Tanta and Alexandria created a big shock, for all of Egypt,” Halim said.
In Alexandria, Rafiq Bishry, head of the Saint Mark’s Cathedral organizational committee, said he was surprised that so many worshippers had come.
“We expected that people would be too scared to attend prayers but there was no need for our expectations because there are a lot of people here,” he told Reuters Television.
“This is a clear message to the whole world that we are not afraid,” he said.
Easter, which along with Christmas is one of Christianity’s most important events, marks the resurrection of Christ three days after followers believe he was crucified.
In Egypt, Copts break a 55-day fast abstaining from all animal products following Saturday’s mass.
Halim said the church will forgo Sunday morning’s traditional celebrations, and instead members will visit the families of victims, as well as those wounded in the blasts, including police officers.
“Even if we are in pain over them parting their bodies… the happiness of resurrection helps us overcome feelings of pain,” said Halim.
ISIS, which has waged an insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula that has seen scores of attacks on security forces, has issued repeated calls for atrocities against Copts.
One Copt who gave his name only as John said he will attend Easter mass despite the heightened security risk.
He plans to go to a church in the relative safety of the capital, but admitted “if I were somewhere else outside of Cairo, like a village, I would not want my relatives to go and I would be worried about attending”.