Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi attended Christmas mass on Saturday evening – along with top officials including the ministers of interior and foreign affairs as well as army officials – at the partial opening of the new Nativity of Christ Cathedral in the new administrative capital.
El-Sisi commissioned the building of the church, the largest in the country, in January 2017 following twin terrorist attacks that killed at least 27 Coptic Egyptians at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Cairo.
The president, who entered the cathedral along with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, stressed that the partial opening of the cathedral is "a message of peace and love from Egypt, not only to Egypt and the region, but to the whole world."
"Evil and destruction and killing will never defeat goodness, construction, peace, and love," he said.
El Sisi, who offered felicitations to Egyptian Copts, said "we are one, and you are our families. No one can ever divide us," adding that no one will be able to hurt Egypt as long as Egyptians are united.
The Coptic Orthodox Church had announced that it would provide buses for worshippers who would like to attend mass at the new cathedral in the new administrative capital, which is located 28 miles (45 kilometres) east of Cairo.
The Nativity of Christ Cathedral will, upon completion, be the largest church in the Middle East, with a capacity to accommodate 8,200 worshippers.
The new cathedral stands at the heart of a large complex built on 15 feddans, and includes a papal residence, a reception hall, meeting halls and offices.
The cathedral also holds two 40-metre-wide vaults that cover the central and cross nave. At their intersection, a dome stands on four central arches. The two ends of the cross nave, and the western end of the central nave, terminate in large semi-domes, while the apse area is flanked on the outside by two 60-metre spires.
The country’s new administrative capital, set to be completed in 2020, is part of the government’s plan to expand urban areas to deal with the country's rapid population growth and improve the nation's infrastructure.
Coptic Orthodox Egyptians, who make up around 90 percent of all Christians in the country, celebrate Christmas on 7 January. A minority of non-Orthodox Christians observed the holiday on 25 December.
Egyptian churches have been targeted repeatedly by Islamist terrorists in recent years.
Egyptian police and army forces have been on high alert to secure the country's Christmas celebrations, with the Ministry of Interior deploying 230,000 security personnel to secure 2,626 churches nationwide.