✣ Bombing at Cairo church kills women and children
Twenty-five people were killed at a church in Cairo when a suicide bomber blew himself up during a Sunday liturgy. The attack took place at a chapel adjacent to St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. It was one of the deadliest ever attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up about 10 per cent of the population. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared three days of national mourning. Three men and a woman were arrested in connection with the attack.
What commentators are saying
John Allen, writing for cruxnow.com, said that the symbolism behind the attack could not be overstated, given that it was “akin to a bomb going off at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome”. Allen also observed that the attack might mark a turning point in relations between Christians and the al-Sisi government. Christians have previously been supportive of the former army general who deposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. But recently, Allen wrote, “82 leading Coptic intellectuals signed a letter protesting the Church’s support for al-Sisi and insisting that alleged improvements in conditions for Christians are more cosmetic than real, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently found that Egypt has taken ‘one step forward and two steps back’”.
The New York Times pointed out that the president’s support had been further battered by “a gnawing economic crisis that has caused widespread discontent, with soaring inflation and shortages of staple food products like sugar”. But the situation in Egypt is not merely about economics but also the meaning of tolerance, said Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith at CatholicHerald.co.uk. “For toleration to emerge, for people to live in peace with each other, there need to be changes in what they believe.”
Terry Mattingly at the Get Religion blog noted that the bomb was placed in a section reserved for women and children. He said that this, and the fact that the chapel was targeted rather than the cathedral itself, suggested that the bomber “did not set out to destroy a symbolic building but to kill worshippers, specifically women and children”.
The most overlooked story of the week
✣ Heavyweights wade into debate over Amoris
Three major figures weighed in on the debate about Amoris Laetitia. The leading philosophers John Finnis and Germain Grisez wrote a letter to the Pope in which they asked him to condemn errors arising from the “misuse” of the document. Meanwhile, Cardinal Paul Cordes said teaching on Communion for the remarried cannot change.
Why was it under-reported?
The debate is confusing in itself – it combines several issues, and many of the contributions have themselves confused matters further. So two more statements are likely to get lost in the general uncertainty.
Yet the status of these individuals makes their interventions count. Finnis, an Oxford law professor, is one of the most distinguished Catholics in academia; Grisez is a doyen of moral theology; Cardinal Cordes is a friend of Benedict XVI. All three have now spoken in defence of traditional teaching.
What will happen next?
Finnis and Grisez, like the “four cardinals” who have also requested clarification of Amoris Laetitia, have avoided the appearance of open conflict: they say they are merely asking for clarity. But it is hard to avoid the sense that there are two sides growing more entrenched: those who imply they speak for the Pope, and those who say they are defending Catholic teaching. The veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin has predicted “a fairly rapid unravelling of this pontificate towards an unknown conclusion”.
✣ The week ahead
The Pope will celebrate Christmas Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at 9.30pm on Christmas Eve. Francis is continuing a tradition, begun by Benedict XVI in 2009, of celebrating the Mass before midnight. The decision was made to ease the Pope’s fatigue at a busy time of year. The next day at noon Francis will give his urbi et orbi address from the balcony on St Peter’s Square.
On New Year’s Eve Pope Francis will preside at Vespers and the singing of the Te Deum in St Peter’s Basilica in thanksgiving for the year that is ending. The Pope will also preside at Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
The United Nations will have a Catholic as secretary general from New Year’s Day. Former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres will take over from Ban Ki-moon, who is stepping down after 10 years. Guterres has been hailed as a natural ally for Pope Francis. He has voiced fears about rising inequality and has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage.
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