Date: December 19, 2016
By Bonnie Brown, Special to ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS – December 19, 2016) -- Amidst the tragic story of the suicide bomb attack that killed at least 25 people during Sunday mass inside a Cairo church near the main Coptic Christian cathedral on Sunday, December 11th, there is another story to be told. It is that of many Muslim’s reaction to the terror on Christians and the forgiveness extended by the victim’s families.
According to media reports, the explosion ripped through St Peter’s Church just before 10:00am local time, wounding at least another 49 people.
St Peter’s Church is beside St Mark’s Cathedral, which is the seat of Egypt's Orthodox Christian church and is home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II.
Reports stated that services were being held in St Peter’s on that Sunday morning, while St Mark's Cathedral was being renovated.
I sat down recently with Mona Roman of AlKarma TV to hear the remarkable stories of Muslim callers to the TV station in the aftermath of the attack. The channel airs in Arabic, with no subtitles, so my friend, Mona, graciously agreed to give me an interview in English for ASSIST News Service readers.
“We had a lot of phone calls from Muslims saying, ‘We are killing you; we are destroying your churches, and you are saying we forgive you, we are praying for you.’ Two Muslim men called in after the attack on Dec 11 to give their lives to Christ. They said, ‘All that we see from you is love and forgiveness. You never answer us with explosions or weapons or hate speech. You are very strong people in love.’ We are the ones who are weak.’ One of them said on behalf of Muslims ‘I am sorry.’”
Mona, the TV host for the Behind the Scenes show for AlKarma TV went on to tell me many stories of the victims of the Dec 11 attack. The suicide belt of the bomber was made of TNT with nails, metal balls and sharp, tapered iron fragments that caused shocking injury and violent death. The force of the blast also caused internal injuries to the organs.
One of the victims, reported dead, but is still alive. is a teenage girl, an athlete, who was badly injured. Her name is Maggie. She is in critical condition and the family is praying for a miracle. They are looking for a specialist to come to Egypt to treat her because she is in such bad shape that they cannot move her. She has a lot of internal damage to her organs.
Samia, a newlywed and pregnant with their first child, wanted to go to El-Botroseya to pray. They usually went to pray at one of the other churches at St. Marks. (St Mark’s Cathedral is one big church with three smaller churches attached.) On this day she told her husband she wanted to pray at the El-Botroseya church* (see below) instead of their regular one. During the liturgy he was watching her from the men’s side of the church [men are seated on the left, women and children on the right, as is the Coptic tradition]. He wanted to get her attention because he wanted to leave, but she had her arms outstretched to God, her eyes were closed as she was worshipping God. Then came the explosion… and she and her baby were gone.
One man, Mona said, was sitting on the men’s side while his eight-year-old daughter was playing outside. After the explosion, the room turned into a big cloud of dark dust. He ran out to find that his daughter was ok. When they ran back in to get the mother, they found her under two bodies and pulled her out. The little girl could not speak for two days.
There is a picture of a woman at the funeral with her arms outstretched trying to hold two coffins. Both of her daughters, Marina and Veronia, both in college, were killed.
Mona showed me a picture of a pillar from inside the church. “When you look at the 150-year-old stone and wood that was torn and mangled you can only imagine what it did to the delicate bodies of women and girls,” she said. “There were pieces of hair embedded into the stone.”
She also told me that some of the pictures and stories floating around on social media are “not true.” The Muslim Brotherhood, she said, spreads propaganda of bloody children and horrible scenes to get the Christians angry in hopes that they will take to the streets in protest like they did after the bombing in Alexandria at New Year’s Eve 2011. But this time the Christians were wise. They did not protest against the government, many forgave the terrorists.
There was a state funeral held after the mass funeral for the families conducted at the Church of the Virgin Mary. There was a stream of ambulances each carrying one coffin through the streets. There are pictures of Muslim women lining the streets, crying. Each ambulance had the name of the murdered victim written on it.
The church that was attacked did not have metal detectors, though there is now talk of installing them in many Christian churches in Egypt. There were government guards assigned to St. Marks, but they were on a break during the attack. The church had an employee, Nabil, who was on guard that morning. He was a 45-year-old-man from Upper Egypt, who was married with two daughters and he had served the church for twenty years. He was the only male victim. He noticed a man entering the woman’s door and followed him in.
The husband of one of the victims said because of what Nabil did, he saved a lot of lives. The terrorist detonated his vest very shortly after he walked in, knowing that Nabil was after him. If he would have gone in further, more lives would have been lost. When the people outside tried to rush into the church, they found his body blown backward from the blast. The reason the terrorist went into the woman’s door instead of the men’s is because it was the door nearest the street and he wanted the explosion to make the biggest impact.
An injured victim, a young girl saw him and described him as having a “very strange, scary looking face,” and ran to ask her mother why he was entering the woman’s door, but then the blast happened.
I asked Mona if they check in people’s bags when they enter the church, like my church does, and she said, “No, they look at the hand. We have the cross tattooed on our hand when we are Christians. Or some carry Christian ID cards.” I asked if they let non-Christians in and she said they couldn’t. It was too dangerous. Then she told me the suicide bomber had actually come to the church the night before, saying, ‘I am a Muslim and I want to become a Christian,’ and he asked for some books. They did not let him in. They told him they were closing and to come back at ten in the morning.
He has now been identified as a member of ISIS that was arrested two years ago at a protest supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. He was held for four months until his lawyer got him acquitted. The others in his group have been arrested and they found two more suicide belts among their items.
Naveen, a gynecologist, was another victim. Her brother wrote and said he forgave the terrorists and asked them to know Jesus and prayed that God would transform them like Saul to Paul. His sister was such a blessing and he was so happy to know he has a sister that ‘now lives in Heaven.’
Many of the people there that fateful day said that the priest was holding the Eucharist in his hand and reciting the scripture during the Last Supper when Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you.” The women in church that day were standing with arms lifted to Jesus, eyes closed, and worshipping Him for His unspeakable gift and, an instant later, they opened their eyes and were standing in front of Him in Heaven.
* Mona Roman, the Egyptian who I interviewed, calls the place that was bombed Al-Botroseya Church. It was built by the Ghali Family in Cairo in 1911 over the tomb of Boutros Pasha Ghali, Egypt’s former Prime Minister (1846-1910). The Church that was designed by an Italian designer and architect includes the cemetery of the Ghali family up till now. It is considered among the Coptic antiquities according to the ministry of antiquities in Cairo. The costs of the damage caused by the explosion are huge.
Photo captions: 1) Scene of devastation inside the church. 2) Samuel and her husband. 3) The State funeral. 4) The clock inside the church stopped at the time of the explosion. 5) Maggie. 6) Nabil (the guard). 7) Naveen and her brother. 8) Bonnie Brown.
About the writer: Bonnie Brown is the author of “Giigle”, a humorous account of massaging Google into a fortune. She runs a private foundation dedicated to loving those that Jesus died for. She travels on adventures with the real “Indiana Jones”, Bob Cornuke, helping him uncover Biblical artifacts. She has lived a long, meaningful 44 years of serving God. She has started a Christian School, spoken on the occult, children’s toys, and the school voucher system. She worked at a winery, ran a messenger service and was a masseuse. She is a businesswoman, mom and grandmother and is currently waiting on God to give her the next adventure.