In his weekly sermon on Wednesday, Coptic Pope Shenouda III refrained from his usual practice of answering questions posed by members of his congregation. ''I apologise for not answering questions today,” he said, “but the circumstances are not suitable at all.”
Shenouda opened the sermon by offering condolences to the families of the 24 Coptic Christians slain in Sunday’s Maspero violence, describing them as “martyrs,” in light of the fact that they had protested peacefully in keeping with religious principles.
Yesterday, the ruling military council (SCAF) claimed in an international press conference that Copts and other protesters attacked army units stationed at the TV building at Maspero at the end of a long march for equal rights on Sunday, 9 October, and that army soldiers simply protected themselves against vigilantes inside the crowd.
“Our children walked from Shubra to Maspero, a very long distance, in a peaceful march, without any weapons,” the pope said.
He went on to stress that the massacre had been “unprecedented” in recent church history, noting that forensic reports had confirmed that two thirds of the martyrs killed on Sunday had died from bullet wounds. The remainder, he added, had been killed when military vehicles ploughed into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.
“These martyrs are our beloved children and their blood does not come cheap,” he said. "I - along with all the bishops, priests and monks – will pray for them. And we know that God will forgive their sins.”
During the sermon, members of the congregation held martyrs’ blood-soaked clothes aloft, with many chanting slogans against Egypt’s ruling military council, which has run the nation’s affairs since the February ouster of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak. The pope, however, urged calm and restraint, calling on congregants to respect the dignity of the church.